Shallow Grave (1994 film)

Shallow Grave is a 1994 British black comedy crime film[7] directed by Danny Boyle, in his feature 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.

Shallow Grave
A shaft of light and an upstanding spade stuck in the ground
Original British poster
Directed byDanny Boyle
Written byJohn Hodge
Produced byAndrew Macdonald
CinematographyBrian Tufano
Edited byMasahiro Hirakubo
Music bySimon Boswell
Distributed byRank Film Distributors
Release dates
  • 16 May 1994 (1994-05-16) (Cannes)[2]
  • 6 January 1995 (1995-01-06) (United Kingdom)[3]
Running time
92 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom[4]
Budget$2.5 million[5]
Box office$19.8 million[6]

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. Shallow Grave received generally favourable reviews from critics and was a commercial success, grossing $19.8 million worldwide.



Chartered accountant David Stevens shares a flat in Edinburgh with physician Juliet Miller and journalist Alex Law. Needing a new flatmate, the trio 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. Shortly after he moves in the trio finds Hugo dead from an apparent drug overdose in his room, as well as a large suitcase full of money. They agree to conceal the death and keep the money for themselves. They decided to remove the identifying features—hands, feet, and teeth—from Hugo's body and bury the remains in the woods. David is given the gruesome task of dismembering the corpse after they draw lots, while Juliet disposes of the leftovers in her hospital's incinerator.

Unknown to them, Hugo is being sought by a pair of violent criminals who are torturing and murdering informants as they follow Hugo's trail. The flat below theirs is broken into, making them anxious. While Juliet and Alex go on a shopping spree with 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 begins to deteriorate.

The criminals break into the flat, beating Alex and Juliet until Alex reveals where the money is. As the men enter the dark attic, David kills both of them with a hammer and returns to the woods to dispose of the bodies. Alex and Juliet become worried about David's mental state, and David becomes worried that the two are conspiring against him. The police, investigating the prior intrusion, are surprised when the three friends deny that they ever had a fourth flatmate.

The bodies are discovered in the woods, and Alex is sent by his editor to cover the story. With the police now closing in, Juliet seduces David into giving her the money so she can buy plane tickets to Rio de Janeiro and they can run away together, but secretly she plans to go alone and leave the other two to take the fall. Alex returns from work and—realising that Juliet and David are working together and that his life is in danger—tries to phone the police, but is stopped by David and Juliet. The confrontation escalates to violence. David reveals that he knew about Juliet's secret plan to betray both him and Alex, and punches her, prompting Alex to attack him too. Alex collapses after being stabbed in the shoulder by David, but Juliet kills David before he can finish the job.

With David dead, Juliet decides to force the knife deeper into Alex's shoulder, pinning him to the floor, so that the police will find him with David's body and blame him for all four of the deaths. She flees with the suitcase to the airport—but in the car park she breaks down hysterically when she discovers that it is actually filled with hundreds of newspaper clippings about the triple shallow grave, taken from Alex's newspaper. With no possessions other than the plane ticket, and no other way out, she calmly boards the plane to Rio.

The police arrive at the flat to find Alex alive and grinning—he had hidden the cash under the same floorboards where Juliet had skewered him. David finishes the monologue that began the film, the entirety of which is now revealed to be a flashback. 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 Stevens: 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, vain, and 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 under 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, he punches Alex after being mocked again.
  • 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.[9]

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 (£364,200 today) grant.[10][11] Locations in the film include Flat 6 North East Circus Place in New Town, Edinburgh. Hospital scenes were filmed at Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, Renfrewshire.[12] The dance scene was filmed at the Townhouse Hotel, 54 West George Street, near George Square in Glasgow.



The film was the most commercially successful British film of 1995 with a gross of £5.2 million.[13][14] The film was a success in Europe but grossed a total of just $2,834,250 in the United States.[15] It led to Boyle's internationally successful production, Trainspotting, two years later.[16] Shallow Grave earned Boyle the Best Newcomer Award from the 1996 London Film Critics Circle[13] and, together with Trainspotting, led to critical commentary that Boyle had revitalised British cinema in the early 1990s.[17]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 72% of 53 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 6.5/10. The website's consensus reads: "This black-humored thriller features characters who are more obnoxious than clever. During the second half, the movie descends into gratuitous violence."[18] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 67 out of 100 based on 20 critic reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[19]

Caroline Westbrook of Empire magazine gave it 5 out of 5 and wrote: "This, the debut feature from acclaimed TV director Danny Boyle, is the best British thriller for years, a chilling and claustrophobic heart-stopper centring on a moral dilemma destined to fuel many a dinner party conversation."[20] Quentin Curtis of The Independent wrote: "What makes the film fascinating, and exciting, is its marriage of British setting and American, B-movie format."[21] Derek Elley of Variety magazine called it "a tar-black comedy that zings along on a wave of visual and scripting inventiveness."[2]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it 2 out of 4, and wrote "All of the materials are in place [...] But somehow they never come together."[22][23][24] Janet Maslin of The New York Times was critical of the film and said "misanthropy overwhelms his film in ways that prove more sour than droll, despite the presence of skillful actors and a bizarrely enveloping plot."[25]




Shallow Grave
Soundtrack album by
GenreElectronic, jazz, rock
LabelEMI Records
ProducerSimon Boswell
Danny Boyle film soundtrack chronology
Shallow Grave
Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic     [27]

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. ^ a b "Shallow Grave-BFI". Archived from the original on 24 November 2020. Retrieved 20 December 2020.
  2. ^ a b Elley, Derek (18 May 1994). "Shallow Grave". Variety. Archived from the original on 17 November 2021. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  3. ^ "Release". British Film Institute. London. Archived from the original on 3 August 2011. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  4. ^ "Shallow Grave". British Film Institute. London. Archived from the original on 16 August 2008. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  5. ^ "Shallow Grave (1994)". Box Office Mojo. 28 February 1995. Archived from the original on 21 November 2011. Retrieved 12 August 2011.
  6. ^ "Shallow Grave". JP's Box-Office. Archived from the original on 29 September 2020. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  7. ^ Williams, Karl. "Shallow Grave". AllMovie. Archived from the original on 8 September 2012. 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. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  9. ^ Hunter, Rob (3 May 2018). "24 Things We Learned from Danny Boyle's 'Shallow Grave' Commentary". Film School Rejects. Retrieved 20 May 2023.
  10. ^ Ipsen, Erik (13 March 1995). "Glasgow Notebook : Funds in Shallow Grave". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 May 2023.
  11. ^ "Good decision to dig deep for Shallow Grave". The Herald. 18 August 1994. Retrieved 20 May 2023.
  12. ^ "Shallow Grave". Retrieved 20 May 2023.
  13. ^ a b c Mayer & McDonnell 2007, pp. 377–380.
  14. ^ "Storybook Weekend". Screen International. 29 March 1996. p. 35.
  15. ^ "Shallow Grave (1994)". The Numbers. Archived from the original on 8 January 2010. Retrieved 29 December 2009.
  16. ^ "BFI Top 100 British films". BFI. British Film Institute. 6 September 2006. Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. Retrieved 23 February 2009.
  17. ^ Grice, Elizabeth (24 February 2009). "From Fleapit to the red carpet". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 27 February 2009. Retrieved 11 March 2009.
  18. ^ "Shallow Grave". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on 15 October 2021. Retrieved 9 May 2024.
  19. ^ "Shallow Grave". Metacritic. Archived from the original on 15 November 2021. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  20. ^ Westbrook, Caroline (1995). "Shallow Grave". Empire.
  21. ^ Curtis, Quentin (8 January 1995). "CINEMA : British noir, American-style". The Independent on Sunday.
  22. ^ Ebert, Roger (24 February 1995). "Shallow Grave". Chicago Sun-Times.
  23. ^ Hinson, Hal (24 February 1995). "Shallow Grave". Washington Post.
  24. ^ Howe, Desson (24 February 1995). "Shallow Grave". Washington Post.
  25. ^ Maslin, Janet (10 February 1995). "FILM REVIEW; Fear and Loathing In Upscale Glasgow". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 26 May 2015.
  26. ^ "Empire Awards Past Winners – 1996". Empire. 2003. Archived from the original on 14 October 2012. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  27. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Shallow Grave Original Soundtrack". AllMusic. Retrieved 20 May 2023.