Dir: Peter Capaldi. UK. 2001. 97 mins.

Peter Capaldi, an actor who made award-winning short film It's A Wonderful Life, makes an assured directorial debut with this darkly comic drama which he also wrote. Boosted by appealing performances by two of Britain's finest young actors, Ian Hart and Kelly Macdonald, and a broad Ealing-esque streak of optimism, Strictly Sinatra avoids the pitfalls of grimy working-class British stories. It should be well-received in the UK although its small-scale nature will preclude large-scale box office breakout.

Overseas, it will be viewed as an arthouse title and its performance in English-speaking markets could suffer from Scottish accent-syndrome. Even at the aggressively international Seattle Film Festival last week, where the film had its world premiere, local audiences struggled to understand the dialogue.

Ian Hart, who has been consistently impressive since breaking through as John Lennon in Christopher Munch's The Hours And Times, is fine as a Scottish-Italian nightclub singer called Toni Cocozza who works in second-rate bars and clubs with dreams of being the next Frank Sinatra.

One night, Toni finds himself singing a request for local gangster Cuthbertson and his henchman Brian Cox. Moving Cuthbertson to tears with his rendition of In The Ghetto by Elvis Presley, he is invited to the local casino where he gets his first taste of the high life. There he meets a feisty cigarette girl (Macdonald) who tries to persuade him to stop smoking, but before he can engage her further, he is dragged off by Cox to have his picture taken with Cuthbertson and his boozy wife Dainty (Una McLean).

Soon enough, Cox and his gang of thugs is asking favours of Toni - to store some boxes in his flat to help out on a 'job' - and as he finds himself getting dragged into their world, he loses track of the important people in his life: Irene, with who he has developed a friendship, and his old friend Bill (Armstrong).

Strictly Sinatra is the second film from UK Lottery franchise-holder DNA Films and considerably more striking than the first, Beautiful Creatures. Although it has its fair share of grimy working class trappings and vicious criminals, its big heart evokes comparisons with memorable British comedies such as Hear My Song, Queen Of Hearts, Gregory's Girl and Local Hero - in which Capaldi himself appeared.

Prod cos DNA Films, Saracen Street Productions, Blue Orange Films

US dist Universal Focus

Int'l dist UIP

Prod Ruth Kenley-Letts

Scr Peter Capaldi

Cinematography Stephen Blackman

Prod des Martyn John

Ed Martin Walsh

Mus Stanislas Syrewicz

Main cast Ian Hart, Kelly Macdonald, Brian Cox, Alun Armstrong, Iain Cuthbertson, Una McLean