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Shallow Grave

Shallow Grave
US release poster
Directed by Danny Boyle
Produced by Andrew Macdonald
Written by John Hodge
Starring Kerry Fox
Christopher Eccleston
Ewan McGregor
Music by Simon Boswell
Cinematography Brian Tufano
Edited by Masahiro Hirakubo
Distributed by Gramercy Pictures
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
Release dates
Running time
92 minutes
Country United Kingdom[3]
Language English
Budget $2.5 million[4]
Box office $2,834,250[5]

Shallow Grave is a 1994 British dark comedy crime film[6] that marked the cinematic directorial debut of Danny Boyle with an original screenplay by John Hodge. The film also provided starring roles for the then relatively little-known actors Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston and Kerry Fox.

The production was funded by Channel 4 television and the film was distributed by PolyGram Filmed Entertainment who, as with their other releases, generated a large amount of publicity for the film on a limited budget.

Shallow Grave was the most commercially successful British film of 1995, considered a "90s classic" by Criterion in 2012.[7] It earned Boyle the Best Newcomer Award from the 1996 London Film Critics Circle.[8]


David Stephens (Christopher Eccleston), a chartered accountant, Juliet Miller (Kerry Fox), a physician, and Alex Law (Ewan McGregor), a journalist, share a flat in Edinburgh. Needing a new flatmate, they interview several applicants in a calculatedly cruel manner to amuse themselves at the applicants' distress before finally offering the room to the mysterious Hugo (Keith Allen). Shortly after Hugo moves in, the trio find him dead in his room, with a large suitcase full of money. They agree to keep Hugo's death a secret and keep the money for themselves. They agree to bury the body in the woods after removing the hands and feet to prevent identification should it be found. They draw lots and David is given the gruesome and traumatising task of dismembering the corpse, with Juliet disposing of the parts in her hospital's incinerator.

Unknown to the three friends, Hugo is being sought by a pair of violent men who are torturing and murdering informants as they follow Hugo's trail. The flat below Alex, David, and Juliet's is broken into, causing them much apprehension and anxiety. The break-in also draws the attention of the police, who are surprised when the three deny that they ever had a fourth flatmate. While Juliet and Alex spend part of the money to 'feel better', David's fears explode into full-blown paranoia. He hides the suitcase of money in the attic, and begins living there, drilling holes in the attic floor to watch the living space below. The relationship between the three becomes increasingly strained and distrustful, with undertones of sexual tension and rivalry.

The men trailing Hugo break into the trio's flat and violently assault Alex and Juliet, until they reveal where the money is. As they each enter the dark attic, David, who has been lying there in wait, kills them with a hammer. David alone visits the same woods to dispose of the two bodies. Alex and Juliet become more worried than ever about David's mental state and David becomes worried that the two are conspiring against him. Juliet secretly buys a plane ticket to South America in anticipation of flight overseas, but also seduces David to get at the money. Matters come to a head after the bodies are discovered by chance—the grave having been too shallow—and Alex is sent by his newspaper to cover the story. He returns to find Juliet and David have reached an understanding about their shared plans that excludes him. That night, Alex, now fearing for his life, tries to secretly phone the police inspector in charge of the case, but he is interrupted by David and Juliet leaving. The doorstep altercation quickly escalates into a murderous triangular fight. David reveals he knows Juliet's secret plan to betray them and attacks her. In the scuffle, David stabs Alex in the chest but is killed by Juliet before he can finish Alex off.

With David dead, Juliet tells Alex he can't come with her. She then forces the knife even deeper into Alex's torso, pinning him to the floor, before fleeing to the airport with the suitcase of money. However, arriving at the airport, she discovers that she has been tricked: the suitcase is filled not with money but with hundreds of headline clippings about the triple grave taken from Alex's newspaper. Devastated, with no possessions except her plane ticket, and knowing that she will soon be wanted for murder, Juliet flees the country. The police arrive at the flat to find Alex bleeding heavily and pinned to the floor. The camera pans to under the floor to reveal Alex had hidden the missing bundles of cash under the floorboards.


The film was Ewan McGregor's first major film role, alongside Christopher Eccleston and Kerry Fox. The supporting cast is led by Keith Allen, Peter Mullan and Ken Stott. It includes John Hodge, the film's writer, as one of the police detectives.


Shooting for Shallow Grave lasted for thirty days. The tight budgetary restraints during filming meant many of the props had to be auctioned off for them to afford sufficient film stock.[9]

Boyle claimed that Christopher Eccleston was so afraid of getting locked in a real-life mortuary for a scene, he had to ask a crew member to stand in the shadows and comfort the nervous actor.[9]

Danny Boyle said in his commentary on the 2009 Special Edition DVD and 2012 Blu-ray that Alex is not meant to be dead.[citation needed] Boyle stresses that a line of Alex saying hello to the detective was actually added in post-production to clarify this.[citation needed]

Filming locations

The crew shot predominantly in Glasgow rather than Edinburgh, which is where the story is set, since the Glasgow film fund gave them a £150,000 grant.

Locations in the film include:

  • Flat 6 North East Circus Place, New Town, Edinburgh
  • Hospital scenes were filmed at Royal Alexandra Hospital, Paisley, Renfrewshire
  • Dance scene Townhouse Hotel - 54 West George Street, Glasgow, Strathclyde

Reception and impact

The film was the most commercially successful British film of 1995,[8] although initially not widely seen elsewhere (grossing a total of just $2,834,250 in the United States[5]). It led to Boyle's internationally successful production, Trainspotting, two years later.[10] By 2012 it had been released by Criterion and was considered a "90s classic".[7] Shallow Grave earned Boyle the Best Newcomer Award from the 1996 London Film Critics Circle[8] and, together with Trainspotting, led to critical commentary that Boyle had revitalised British cinema in the early 1990s.[11]

The film received positive reviews; on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Shallow Grave has a "Fresh" rating of 72% based on 46 reviews.[12]


  • 1995 Angers European First Film Festival
    • Audience Award – Feature Film
    • Best Screenplay – Feature Film
    • Liberation Advertisement Award
  • 1995 BAFTA – Alexander Korda Award for Best British film (shared with Andrew Macdonald)[8]
  • 1995 Cognac Festival du Film Policier
    • Audience Award
    • Grand Prix
  • 1994 Dinard British Film Festival
    • Golden Hitchcock
  • 1st Empire Awards (1996)[13]
  • 1995 Evening Standard British Film Award
  • 1995 Fantasporto (Portugal)
    • International Fantasy Film Award – Best Film
  • 1994 San Sebastian International Film Festival
    • Silver Seashell – Best Director


Shallow Grave
File:Shallow Grave soundtrack.jpg
Soundtrack album by Simon Boswell
Released 1995
Genre Electronic, Jazz, Rock
Label EMI Records
Producer Simon Boswell
Danny Boyle film soundtrack chronology

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Track listing

  1. Leftfield – "Shallow Grave" – 4:38
  2. Simon Boswell – "Shallow Grave Theme" – 3:30
  3. Nina Simone – "My Baby Just Cares for Me" – 3:38
  4. Simon Boswell – "Laugh Riot" – 3:02
  5. Leftfield – "Release the Dubs" – 5:45
  6. John Carmichael Band – "Strip the Willow" – 3:12
  7. Simon Boswell – "Loft Conversion" – 5:45
  8. Simon Boswell – "A Spade, We Need a Spade" – 2:41
  9. Simon Boswell – "Shallow Grave, Deep Depression" – 4:49
  10. Simon Boswell – "Hugo's Last Trip" – 5:39
  11. Andy Williams – "Happy Heart" – 3:11


  1. ^ "Variety Reviews – Shallow Grave". Variety. 17 May 1994. Retrieved 30 August 2012. 
  2. ^ "Release". British Film Institute. London. Retrieved 30 August 2012. 
  3. ^ "Shallow Grave". British Film Institute. London. Retrieved 11 June 2012. 
  4. ^ "Shallow Grave (1994)". Box Office Mojo. 28 February 1995. Retrieved 12 August 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "Shallow Grave (1994)". Retrieved 29 December 2009. 
  6. ^ Williams, Karl. "Shallow Grave". Allmovie. Retrieved 30 August 2012. 
  7. ^ a b Locke, Greg (19 July 2012). "ScreenTime No. 146 :: Criterion's Finer Plugs". Retrieved 23 July 2013. 
  8. ^ a b c d Mayer & McDonnell 2007, pp. 377–380.
  9. ^ a b A. Gonzalez, Cristina (April 9, 2013). "Danny Boyle Reflects on Shooting Amidst Real Dead Bodies on Shallow Grave and Talks Budgeting at Academy Event". indieWire. 
  10. ^ "BFI Top 100 British films". BFI. 6 September 2006. Retrieved 23 February 2009. 
  11. ^ Grice, Elizabeth (24 February 2009). "From Fleapit to the red carpet". (London). Retrieved 11 March 2009. 
  12. ^ "Shallow Grave (1994)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved 8 January 2013. 
  13. ^ "Empire Awards Past Winners – 1996". Bauer Consumer Media. 2003. Retrieved 16 September 2011. 

External links