Back in the day, I used to freelance for Scottish Screen, our now defunct government film-finance agency, interviewing those who got public money development loans for their projects and companies. One project was Younger than Springtime, a proposed vehicle for Alan Cumming loosely based on the story of Brian McKinnon. McKinnon was a 32 year old who claimed to have passed himself off as a teenager when he went back to his old school to get qualifications for a medical degree. Calling himself Brandon Lee, McKinnon managed to get the requisite highers, but was subsequently thrown out of medical school. He found himself subject to a media furore when his deception was uncovered while on holiday in Spain with girls from the same school.
Each script I looked at got further and further from the truth; the writers contrived details like a happy ending where McKinnon appears to have achieved his goal of doing theatre surgery as a doctor, only to reveal that he found his metier as an actor on a medical soap opera. None of this felt true even as fanciful fiction, and the Younger Than Springtime project was shelved without return. Decades later, a new and apparently completely separate project named My Old School surfaces to tell the same story, with McKinnon providing an audio interview and Cumming, now pushing 60, improbably donning school uniform to lip-sync to McKinnon’s words; an elaborate subterfuge created because the subject of this film chooses not to appear on camera to protect his identity.
Interrupted by animated inserts and interviews with a few of McKinnon’s friends and teachers, My Old School defends his ‘honour’ by casually slandering teaching staff no longer living or willing to defend themselves. My Old School attributes blame to staff for not picking up McKinnon’s deception, even insinuating that the school’s deputy head was promoted not on merit, but to get her away from the limelight. Crucially, ex-pupil Jono McLeod’s film also avoids context that doesn’t fit the narrative. How exactly did McKinnon fool an entire school of over a thousand pupils? Looking every inch an adult, McKinnon didn’t deceive many; before the Dunblane primary school massacre, adults were widely encouraged to return to Scottish schools and higher classes had all ages in them. Only staff who knew of McKinnon’s specific medical school ambitions would have any reason to question in his presence in the corridors. Fudging the issue of what kind of documentation he provided to allow him to study, McKinnon improbably suggests that he somehow used hypnosis to fool the staff.
The problem with publishing lies is that they obscure the truth. Movies often print the legend rather than the facts for dramatic purposes, but McKinnon’s suggestion that all he wanted to do was get his school qualifications and leave simply doesn’t square with being unmasked on holiday with pupils over a year later. Sharply shot by George Geddes, My Old School aims to elicit a warm glow of nostalgia for schooldays, but the mean-spirited untruths featured here credit Brian McKinnon at the expense of his teachers and classmates. The film’s centrepiece, a video of McKinnon, 32 enjoying a lengthy kiss with a 17 year old girl at a school show, is creepy enough to make My Old School an avoidable proposition; McKinnon for once gets it right when he says that what he did was not a crime, but was morally reprehensible; the real question is why several rounds of public money have been spent to bring this deliberately unreliable version of his story to the screen.