A decade of Netflix true crime may lead you to believe there’s something sinister in the set up for British documentary My Old School. It’s the story of Brandon Lee – not Bruce Lee’s son, but the Scottish school student who in the mid-90s was revealed to be a 32-year-old man called Brian MacKinnon. It made national news almost three decades ago, but now the adult classmates of MacKinnon recall the year he spent with them, as well as the events leading up to his discovery.
The man himself speaks, but chooses not to be filmed, his words lip-synced by actor Alan Cumming. These scenes are combined with talking head interviews and animated flashbacks, in a style reminiscent of 90s cartoon Daria. The bright colours and pop soundtrack mean the film can be tonally cloudy, a symptom of there being no real smoking gun in this story of a local oddball.
The suspected dark turn never comes – instead old school chums reminisce about the period, crack jokes about the scandal, and wonder how they were so easily fooled. What emerges almost accidentally is a message about the blinkered vision of youth, as former students look back fondly on the interloper who was a supporting character in the story of their lives.
One student, coincidentally sharing MacKinnon’s real name, recalls how ‘Brandon’ shaped his music taste, while one sweet interviewee seems to genuinely value his friendship with him. There’s a general sense of conviviality to the whole thing, and director Jono McLeod (also a student/interviewee) draws out more relaxed accounts than you might expect.
MacKinnon is the most fascinating subject of all. Less a villain, more a confused man with an unshakable sense of destiny. He speaks like the mastermind of a great heist, offering the same accounts as his peers but with unusual twists (his claim that he controlled a teacher’s mind draws some hilarious responses elsewhere). As his story unfolds, however, pity overtakes any sense of disgust.
An excellent performance by Cumming is accompanied by vocal appearances from Claire Grogan and Lulu (who, bafflingly, also sings an original song over the credits). As quirky as the story it portrays, My Old School grabs your attention from the beginning and never lets go.