Ratcatcher Theatrical Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLynne Ramsay
Written byLynne Ramsay
Produced byGavin Emerson
CinematographyAlwin H. Küchler
Edited byLucia Zucchetti
Music byRachel Portman
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 13 May 1999 (1999-05-13) (Cannes)
  • 12 November 1999 (1999-11-12) (UK)
  • 12 January 2000 (2000-01-12) (France)
Running time
94 minutes
  • United Kingdom
  • France
LanguagesEnglish, Scots
Box office$888,354[1]

Ratcatcher is a 1999 drama film written and directed by Lynne Ramsay. Set in Glasgow, Scotland, it is her debut feature film and was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival.[2]

The film won its director numerous awards including the Carl Foreman Award for Newcomer in British Film at the BAFTA Awards, the Sutherland Trophy at the London Film Festival and the Silver Hugo for Best Director at the Chicago International Film Festival. Ratcatcher grossed $888,817 worldwide.[3] It was released on DVD and Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection.[4]


Ratcatcher is set in Glasgow, 1973. The city, despite its Victorian grandeur, has some schemes with the poorest housing conditions in western Europe, such as no running hot water, no bathing facilities, and no indoor toilets. The city is midway through a major re-development program, demolishing these schemes and re-housing the tenants in new modern estates. The problems in these schemes are somewhat compounded by the binmen going on strike, creating an additional health hazard and a breeding ground for rats. The main character, James, is a 12-year-old boy, growing up in one of these schemes, which is gradually emptying as the re-housed tenants move out. James, with the rest of his family, (two sisters, one older, one younger, his mum and heavy-drinking father), patiently wait to be re-housed.


The film opens focused upon James's friend Ryan Quinn, who is being forced to put on his gum boots to go to visit his father, who is in prison. Ryan chose to play with James instead, and runs off while his mother is not looking. Ryan meets James at the canal and during some rough-house play he is drowned, clearly with James bearing much of the blame for not having raised the alarm. James believes his inaction has gone unnoticed.

Ryan's family is eventually re-housed and on the day of leaving, Ryan's mother gives James the pair of brown sandals that she'd bought for Ryan on the day of his death.

The film follows the sensitive James as he tries to come to terms with his guilt, and make sense of the insensitive aspects of his environment.

James's one escape comes when he takes a bus to the end of the line and ends up in the outskirts of the city, where a new housing estate is under construction. He explores the half-built houses, and wonders in awe at the view from the kitchen window: an expansive field of wheat, blowing in the wind and reaching to the horizon. In a scene central to the film, he climbs through the window and escapes into the blissful freedom of the field.

James befriends a girl, Margaret Anne, who he tries to help after her glasses are thrown into the canal by the local gang. James and Margaret Anne become close friends. She is his only other relief from his home environment. Margaret Anne has problems of her own, being abused by the local gang. The duo find comfort in each other's company.

One of James' friends, Kenny, receives a pet mouse as a birthday present. After the gang throw the mouse around in the air to make him "fly", Kenny ties the mouse's tail to a balloon, and the film shows it floating to the moon. Then, Kenny's mouse joins a whole colony of other mice frolicking on the moon.

Kenny later falls in the canal and is rescued by James' father, making him briefly into a local hero.

Though the military eventually comes and cleans up all the rubbish in the neighbourhood, James realises that his situation will most likely never change. He plunges himself into the canal, and a brief scene is shown, in which James and his family are moving into a new neighbourhood.



Ratcatcher received generally positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 85% of 41 critics gave the film a positive review, for an average rating of 7.6/10. The site's critical consensus is that "Critics find Ratcatcher to be hauntingly beautiful, though its story is somewhat hard to stomach." Metacritic, which assigns a rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, has a "generally favorable" score of 76 based on 18 reviews.


  1. ^ "Ratcatcher". The Numbers. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Ratcatcher". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 10 October 2009.
  3. ^ "Ratcatcher - The Numbers". Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  4. ^ "Ratcatcher". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 20 October 2021.