Shallow Grave

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Shallow Grave
Shallow Grave (1994 film).jpg
Original British poster
Directed byDanny Boyle
Produced byAndrew Macdonald
Written byJohn Hodge
Music bySimon Boswell
CinematographyBrian Tufano
Edited byMasahiro Hirakubo
Distributed by
Release date
  • 17 May 1994 (1994-05-17) (Cannes)[1]
  • 6 January 1995 (1995-01-06) (United Kingdom)[2]
Running time
92 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom[3]
Budget$2.5 million[5]
Box office$19.8 million (worldwide)[6]

Shallow Grave is a 1994 British black comedy crime film[7] directed by Danny Boyle, in his directorial debut, and starring Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, and Kerry Fox. Its plot follows a group of flatmates in Edinburgh who set off a chain of events after dismembering and burying a mysterious new tenant who died and left behind a large sum of money. The film was written by John Hodge, marking his first screenplay.

The production was funded by Channel 4 Television and PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, and the film was distributed by Rank Film Distributors in the UK, while Columbia TriStar Film Distributors International distributed the film in other countries.[citation needed]


The film begins with a monologue to camera about friendship by chartered accountant David Stephens (Christopher Eccleston). David, physician Juliet Miller (Kerry Fox), and journalist Alex Law (Ewan McGregor) share a flat in Edinburgh. Needing a new flatmate, they interview several applicants in a calculatedly cruel manner, amusing themselves at the applicants' expense before finally offering the room to a mysterious man named Hugo (Keith Allen). Shortly after Hugo moves in, the trio finds him dead from an apparent overdose in his room, with a large suitcase full of money. They agree to conceal the death, keep the money for themselves and bury the body in the woods after removing the hands and feet to prevent identification. They draw lots, and David is given the gruesome task of dismembering the corpse, while Juliet disposes of the hands and feet in her hospital's incinerator.

Unknown to them, 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 theirs is broken into, making them anxious. The intrusion 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 turn 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.

The men trailing Hugo break into the flat, coercing Alex and Juliet to reveal where the money is. As the men enter the dark attic, David kills both of them with a hammer. David returns to the woods to dispose of the bodies. Alex and Juliet become worried about his mental state, and David becomes worried that the two are conspiring against him. With police closing in, Juliet seduces David into getting her the money needed to secretly buy a plane ticket to Rio de Janeiro. Matters come to a head after the three bodies are discovered in the woods, and Alex is sent by his editor to cover the story. Alex returns to find Juliet and David have reached an understanding about their shared plans, which excludes him. Fearing for his life, Alex tries to secretly phone investigators, but he is interrupted by David and Juliet. The confrontation quickly escalates into a violent three-way fight. David reveals that he knows Juliet's secret plan to betray them and punches her, prompting Alex to attack him. During the battle, David stabs Alex in the shoulder, but Juliet kills David before he can finish the job.

With David dead, Juliet betrays Alex and tells him that he can't come with her. She then forces the knife deeper into Alex's shoulder, pinning him to the floor, before fleeing to the airport with the suitcase of money. At the airport, she discovers that she has been tricked and cries hysterically: the suitcase is not filled with money, but with hundreds of headline clippings about the triple grave taken from Alex's newspaper. With no possessions except her plane ticket, and knowing that she will soon be wanted for murder, a devastated Juliet boards the plane.

The police arrive at the flat to find Alex still skewered to the floor. He is seen to be grinning. The camera pans down, following the trajectory of the knife and through the floor of the flat, to reveal that Alex had hidden the missing bundles of cash under the floorboards.

The film ends with David finishing the monologue that began the film (which is now revealed to be occurring after he was dead) before a sheet is drawn over his face and his body is slid into a drawer in the morgue.


  • Kerry Fox as Juliet Miller: A spirited and mysterious doctor, who is constantly being courted by different men, many of whom repeatedly call the flat trying to speak to her. Despite this, she also appears to be in a relationship with David as well as openly flirting with Alex.
  • Christopher Eccleston as David Stephens: A shy chartered accountant, who keeps a low profile. After drawing the short straw and having to cut up the body, he becomes introverted and paranoid.
  • Ewan McGregor as Alex Law. A cheeky and vain, self-described "hack" journalist. Alex works for the local paper and is able to find out inside information of the police investigation. His confidence in their plot starts to be undermined by David's deteriorating mental health.
  • Ken Stott as Detective Inspector McCall
  • Keith Allen as Hugo. An enigmatic man who rents the spare room on the pretence of being a writer. He is later found dead after a drug overdose, leaving a suitcase full of money under his bed.
  • Colin McCredie as Cameron. A potential flatmate who is interviewed at the beginning of the film. He is ridiculed and then thrown out by Alex and the housemates, Later, at a party, Alex once again mocks Cameron resulting in Cameron punching him.
  • Victoria Nairn as Woman Visitor, the "identify this song" potential flatmate
  • Gary Lewis as Male Visitor, the "not having an affair" potential flatmate
  • Jean Marie Coffey as Goth, a potential flatmate
  • Peter Mullan as Andy, a murderous thug searching for Hugo and the money
  • Leonard O'Malley as Tim, a murderous thug searching for Hugo and the money

In addition, the film's screenwriter, John Hodge, appears in the role of Detective Constable Mitchell, whose main duty appears to be writing: "Make a note of that, Mitchell. ... Write it down."


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.[8]

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.[8]

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

Filming locations[edit]

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 (£290,500 today) grant.

Locations in the film include:

Reception and impact[edit]

The film was the most commercially successful British film of 1995.[9] The film was a success in Europe, but grossed a total of just $2,834,250 in the United States.[10] It led to Boyle's internationally successful production, Trainspotting, two years later.[11] Shallow Grave earned Boyle the Best Newcomer Award from the 1996 London Film Critics Circle[9] and, together with Trainspotting, led to critical commentary that Boyle had revitalised British cinema in the early 1990s.[12]

The film received positive reviews; on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Shallow Grave has a "Fresh" rating of 69% based on 48 reviews.[13]


  • 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)[9]
  • 1995 Cognac Festival du Film Policier
    • Audience Award
    • Grand Prix
  • 1994 Dinard British Film Festival
    • Golden Hitchcock
  • 1st Empire Awards (1996)[14]
  • 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
Soundtrack album by
GenreElectronic, jazz, rock
LabelEMI Records
ProducerSimon Boswell
Danny Boyle film soundtrack chronology
Shallow Grave

Track listing[edit]

  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. Archived from the original on 3 August 2011. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  3. ^ "Shallow Grave". British Film Institute. London. Archived from the original on 16 August 2008. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  4. ^ a b "Shallow Grave-BFI".
  5. ^ "Shallow Grave (1994)". Box Office Mojo. 28 February 1995. Retrieved 12 August 2011.
  6. ^ "Shallow Grave". JP's Box-Office. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  7. ^ Williams, Karl. "Shallow Grave". AllMovie. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  8. ^ a b A. Gonzalez, Cristina (9 April 2013). "Danny Boyle Reflects on Shooting Amidst Real Dead Bodies on Shallow Grave and Talks Budgeting at Academy Event". indieWire.
  9. ^ a b c Mayer & McDonnell 2007, pp. 377–380.
  10. ^ "Shallow Grave (1994)". The Numbers. Retrieved 29 December 2009.
  11. ^ "BFI Top 100 British films". BFI. 6 September 2006. Retrieved 23 February 2009. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. ^ Grice, Elizabeth (24 February 2009). "From Fleapit to the red carpet". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 11 March 2009.
  13. ^ "Shallow Grave". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  14. ^ "Empire Awards Past Winners – 1996". Empire. 2003. Retrieved 16 September 2011.

External links[edit]