The production was funded by Channel 4 television and the film was distributed by PolyGram Filmed Entertainment.
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, amusing themselves at the applicants' expense before finally offering the room to the mysterious Hugo (Keith Allen). Shortly after Hugo moves in, the trio find him dead from an overdose in his room with a large suitcase full of money. They agree to keep the death a secret and the money for themselves and 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, while Juliet disposes of the hands and feet 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 assault Alex and Juliet until they reveal where the money is. As the men enter the dark attic, David, who has been lying there in wait, kills both of them with a hammer. David returns to the woods to dispose of the 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. Meanwhile, the police are already circling in the form of Detective Inspector McCall (Ken Stott) and Detective Constable Mitchell (John Hodge). Juliet, hoping to flee the country, secretly buys a plane ticket to South America, but she also seduces David to get at the money. Matters come to a head after the bodies are discovered in their shallow graves 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. When she arrives at the airport, however, 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 air ticket, and knowing that she will soon be wanted for murder, Juliet boards the plane. The police arrive at the flat to find Alex alive but bleeding heavily and pinned to the floor. The camera pans down to reveal that Alex has hidden the missing bundles of cash under the floorboards.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. Her involvement is crucial to their plot, as she is able to dispose of body parts in the hospital incinerator without suspicion.
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, eventually moving upstairs into the loft and drilling holes in the ceiling to spy on his flatmates.
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, being the first to learn the discovery of the bodies. 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, but later gets revenge by physically assaulting Alex at a party.
Victoria Nairn as Visitor
Gary Lewis as Visitor
Jean Marie Coffey as Goth
Peter Mullan as Andy
Leonard O'Malley as Tim
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.
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.
Danny Boyle said in his commentary on the 2009 Special Edition DVD and 2012 Blu-ray that Alex is not meant to be dead. Boyle stresses that a line of Alex saying hello to the detective was actually added in post-production to clarify this.
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
The dance scene was filmed at the Townhouse Hotel, 54 West George Street, Glasgow, Strathclyde
The film was the most commercially successful British film of 1995, although initially not widely seen elsewhere, the film grossed a total of just $2,834,250 in the United States. It led to Boyle's internationally successful production, Trainspotting, two years later. Shallow Grave earned Boyle the Best Newcomer Award from the 1996 London Film Critics Circle and, together with Trainspotting, led to critical commentary that Boyle had revitalised British cinema in the early 1990s.
The film received positive reviews; on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Shallow Grave has a "Fresh" rating of 70% based on 46 reviews.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)
1995 Cognac Festival du Film Policier
1994 Dinard British Film Festival
1st Empire Awards (1996)Empire Award for Best British Film
Empire Award for Best Director
Empire Award for Best British Actor
1995 Evening Standard British Film Award
Most Promising Newcomer for Danny Boyle
1995 Fantasporto (Portugal)
International Fantasy Film Award – Best Film
1994 San Sebastian International Film Festival
Silver Seashell – Best Director
- Leftfield – "Shallow Grave" – 4:38
- Simon Boswell – "Shallow Grave Theme" – 3:30
- Nina Simone – "My Baby Just Cares for Me" – 3:38
- Simon Boswell – "Laugh Riot" – 3:02
- Leftfield – "Release the Dubs" – 5:45
- John Carmichael Band – "Strip the Willow" – 3:12
- Simon Boswell – "Loft Conversion" – 5:45
- Simon Boswell – "A Spade, We Need a Spade" – 2:41
- Simon Boswell – "Shallow Grave, Deep Depression" – 4:49
- Simon Boswell – "Hugo's Last Trip" – 5:39
- Andy Williams – "Happy Heart" – 3:11