EIFF 2016 – Whisky Galore! (Gillies Mackinnon)

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This remake of alexander Mackendrick’s Ealing classic Whisky Galore! (1949) has been in development since the early 2000’s. Every so often the producers would attempt to drum up publicity in the press and people would wonder why bother remaking one of the great Scottish films? Production was shelved a decade ago due to a problem with funding and arguments over casting. Now that the film has finally been made it turns out to be a modest success. Peter McDougall’s screenplay is wryly funny and captures the spirit of Compton Mackenzie’s novel, while Gregor Fisher gives a warm-hearted performance as the wily postmaster Macroon.

The story remains much the same save for the addition of a sub-plot about important documents relating to the royal family which would have got the original filmmakers done for treason. On the isolated Isle of Todday wartime rationing has restricted the availability of whisky. Much to the consternation of the Islanders they’ve drank their fill and the island is now dry. While Macroon is one of the most respected men on the island, he’s not known for his joviality. A widower with two daughters, both of whom are keen to marry and may well leave for the mainland. The last thing he needs is a period of sobriety.

When the SS Cabinet Minister runs aground carrying a cargo of whisky meant for the United States the locals mobilise although not before the local Kirk minister (James Cosmo) makes them observe the longest Sabbath of their lives. Technically taking anything from the ship is theft so hapless Home Guardsman Captain Wagget (Eddie Izzard) chases them all over the island trying to find proof of their subterfuge.

Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero (1983) and the TV series Hamish Macbeth (1994) did more with this kind of material and like the original Whisky Galore! tell us a great deal about the time when they were made. Mackinnon’s film is a nostalgic period piece, but not without charm. What’s missing is any sense of there being something to lose for these people. Izzard is too buffoonish to pose any real threat while Basil Radford in the 49’ version seemed like the sort of ‘decent’ person who would ruin people’s lives over the most trivial of matters. It’ll pass a Sunday afternoon quite nicely though and older viewers might enjoy hearing Gregor Fisher reprising his Hebridean news anchor accent from his Naked Video (1986-91) days.

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EIFF 2016 – Preview

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Artistic director Mark Adams unveiled the lineup for the 70th Edinburgh International Film Festival taking place between the 15th and 26th of June. It’s an interesting lineup continuing the Festival’s current admirable direction towards discovering smaller independent movies. I’ve been looking through the programme and here are my highlights though as ever with festivals there will hopefully be a few new discoveries along the way.

EIFF is notorious for opening on a downer and we’ll soon find out if Tommy’s Honour, a Scottish film starring the ubiquitous Peter Mullan can buck the trend. It does have the novelty value of being directed by former Robin of Sherwood star Jason Connery though.

The knives are ready and sharpened for the closing night gala, a remake of the Ealing classic Whisky Galore! It comes with a long and troubled production history and a previous attempt to film it back in 2006 fell apart. The official website for the film is a bit odd, even chastising original director Alexander Mackendrick for the “folly” of choosing to film the original in black and white.

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Yet there’s some serious talent involved. Gillies Mackinnon (Small Faces) directs, while the screenplay is written by Peter McDougall whose name probably means little outside Scotland but back in the 70s’ and 80s’ he wrote a series of uncompromising television plays including Just a Boy’s Game and A Sense of Freedom then stopped writing for the screen altogether in the early 90s.’ I’m not expecting it to match the original but at least it should be interesting.

Agnieszka Smoczynska’s fascinating looking The Lure is described in the programme as a musical fairytale about two mermaids working in a burlesque club with “kitsch, communist-era styling and off-the-wall collection of upbeat 80s’ songs.”

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Giuseppe Tornatore’s last film, the haunting La Migliore Offerta was given a shabby straight-to-DVD release in the UK under the non-descript title Deception and edited for length so hopefully The Correspondence will fare better. It’s partly set in Edinburgh with Jeremy Irons as an academic carrying on an affair with former student Olga Kurylenko.

My enthusiasm for Maggie’s Plan is tempered by an deep loathing of Ethan Hawke but apparently the movie spends a great deal of time making fun of his pretensions. Hitman movie Mr Right (Paco Cabezas) features Anna Kendrick falling for Sam Rockwell’s dance-loving hitman, and Mark Cousins Bigger than the Shining focuses on premonition in the movies and male rage.

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There’s also Sam Neill in New Zealand comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waitit). Thomas Vinterberg’s hippy movie The Commune, 24 stalwart John Cassar directing Kiefer and Donald Sutherland in western The Forsaken, and Dougray Scott as a zombie hunter in Steve (Outpost) Barker’s The Rezort.

Adams mentioned at the press launch that Scottish road-movie Moon Dogs (Philip John) is well worth seeing. Other recommendations from folks who’ve attended festivals elsewhere include Mammal (Rebecca Daly), Sand Storm (Elite Zexer), and Parched (Tannishtha Chatterjee). There’s also a couple of Gerard Depardieu movies, The End (Guillaume Nicloux) and Saint Amour (Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kerven), but I doubt EIFF will have invited him back after he got waylaid in a pub on the Isle of Skye and never made it to the Festival for a screening of Welcome to New York (Abel Ferrara) a couple of years ago.

Pow!!! Live Action Comic Strip Adaptations: The First Generation

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Looking at the early days of comic book adaptations this retrospective has a fine mixture of pop art classics including to quote Ralph Fiennes in The Lego Batman trailer, “that weird one in 1966,” the Batman (Leslie H. Martinson) movie. Monica Vitti changing her hairstyle in every scene for Joseph Losey’s Modesty Blaise, Vadim’s sexually charged Barbarella, Corrado Farina’s beautiful Baba Yaga, and I envy anybody seeing Mario Bava’s sublime Danger Diabolik on the big screen for the first time.

Altman’s Popeye was the first movie I ever saw in a cinema and it will be interesting to see if my adult self dislikes it as much as I did when I was five. Mike Hodges camp classic Flash Gordon is always welcome, with Sam Jones likeable hero travelling into space and encountering magnificently ripe performances from Brian Blessed, Timothy Dalton, and Max von Sydow.

Only ever seen Shogun Assassin, the edited together travesty cut from two Lone Wolf Cub movies so look forward to seeing one of the originals Sword of Vengeance (Kenji Misumi).  Also new to me are hitman movie Golgo 13 (Jun’ya Sato), Pam Grier Blaxploitation movie Friday Foster (Arthur Marks), and Tin Tin and the Golden Fleece (Jean-Jacques-Vierne) a remarkable looking live action adaptation of Herge’s classic comic book series.

Adapting Miss Highsmith

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Patricia Highsmith’s biographer Joan Schenker delivers her talk, ‘The Talented Miss Highsmith: What She Did For Love about Carol/The Price of Salt and how it ties into the rest of her work plus screenings of Carol (Todd Haynes) and Michel Deville’s Deep Water starring Isabelle Huppert.

A Celebration and Critical Appraisal of the Cinema du Look 

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Cinema du Look was initially derived as a dismissive term for the work of a trio of young French directors (Leos Carax, Jean-Jacques Beiniex, and Luc Besson) in the 80s by critic Raphael Bassan who who felt their films had more style than substance. Many still feel that way. Only Carax carries any kind of critical respect, while Beineix has fallen away, and the ridiculously prolific Besson now churns out genre movies through his highly profitable Europacorp studio. These films were often simplistic in terms of worldview, but incredibly complex in terms of their use of imagery and music and they redefined the look of French cinema.

EIFF are showing seven movies. Carax’s sci-fi love story Mauvais Sang, famous for the clip of Denis Lavant dancing through the street to David Bowie’s Modern Love, and his grand folly Les Amants du Pont-Neuf. From Beineix, his wonderful thriller Diva, and the more problematic Betty Blue. Mercifully we’re spared his Roselyne and the Lions. Besson gets the MVP treatment with three films screening. Christopher Lambert’s lovelorn thief hiding out in the Paris Metro in Subway, Anne Pariallaud as the punk turned assassin La Femme Nikita, and the astonishingly beautiful Jean Marc-Barr in his free-diving epic The Big Blue.

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There’s another retrospective showing a peak period Christopher Lambert movie. This time a restored version of Highlander is getting a 30th anniversary screening with the Kurgan himself Clancy Brown attending. Devotees of the film will know Brown rarely talks about his time working on the movie due to a fallout with the film’s producers so this could be an interesting evening.

So far there are In Person events with Diva bad guy Dominique Pinon, legendary British producer and longtime David Cronenberg collaborator Jeremy Thomas, and if you still have enough affection for his 90s’ work Kevin Smith will be there. Adams suggested there will be more stars announced in the next few weeks.

Station Screenings Updates – The Railway Man (2014, Jonathan Teplitzky)

Haven’t done much writing lately. Overcome with a general feeling of malaise I can’t seem to kick. Still providing notes for screenings at The Station Restaurant though. Will update here with the few worth posting starting with The Railway Man. 


Courtesy of Lionsgate

The Railway Man is a fine tribute to the bravery of Eric Lomax (1919-2012). Captured by Japanese troops in 1942 Lomax was one of many Allied soldiers forced to work on the notorious ‘Death Railway’ in Thailand. Many years later he returned to confront the man responsible for torturing him. Adapted from Lomax’s memoir ‘The Railway Man’ by Frank Cottrell Boyce, the film stars Colin Firth and Jeremy Irvine as the older and younger Lomax respectively, Nicole Kidman as his wife Patti, Stellan Skarsgard as fellow survivor Finlay, and Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada as the older version of his tormenter Nagase.  

Colin Firth – Career Profile 
Handsome and blessed with an old world charm, Colin Firth has taken the long road to success. Firth made his debut opposite Rupert Everett in Another Country (84, Marek Kanievska), based on the school days of the defector Guy Burgess. Everett was courted by Hollywood while Firth kept on doing fine work in smaller productions. Touching as a WW1 veteran restoring a church mural in A Month in the Country (87, Pat O’Connor), and winning a BAFTA for Falklandswar TV drama Tumbledown (1988). The lead in Milos Forman’s Valmont (89) would have impressed more had Stephen Frears version of the same source material Dangerous Liasons not been such a huge hit. Firth held his own opposite Peter OToole in the little-seen but haunting Wings of Fame (90, Otakar Votocek) which imagines the afterlife as a Grand Hotel where the famous get the best rooms until their reputations fade away. The Hour of the Pig (93, Leslie Megahey) is another oddity with Firth as a medieval lawyer defending a pig from a murder charge as the plague sweeps through Europe.
Mainstream success at last and heartthrob status with Pride and Prejudice (95) on television. Bigger films now but a supporting player. A cold fish aristocrat in Circle of Friends(95, Pat O’Connor), a cuckold in The English Patient (96, Anthony Minghella), a cuckolded cold fish aristocrat in Shakespeare in Love (98, John Madden). Girly fighting with Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones Diary (01, Sharon Maguire) and its sequel. Reunited with Rupert Everett for The Importance of Being Ernest (02, Oliver Parker). A trip to Richard Curtis land for Love Actually (03). All roles requiring Firth to display a stiff upper lip. Yet as he ages the work gets more interesting. a bullying Rat Pack style entertainer in Where the Truth Lies (05, Atom Egoyan). Achingly good as a gay man mourning his lover in fashion designer Tom Ford’s film A Single Man (09) An Oscar winner for The King’s Speech (10, Tom Hooper). Poker faced as one of the potential traitors in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (11, Tomas Alfredson). Next up after The Railway Man Firth will be providing the voice of Paddington Bear and playing a suave 007 type spy in The Secret Service for director Matthew Vaughn. 


Films of 2013

10) Pain and Gain (Michael Bay)
 
Michael Bay’s talent for flashy visuals and breakneck pacing finds perfect material in Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s darkly comic screenplay. At first Pain and Gain seems like the kind of buddy action movie Bay started out making back in the 90’s until it becomes clear we’ve been spending time getting to know the bad guys. Mark Wahlberg’s regular guy screen persona is subverted here as his likability masks a violent sociopath pumped up on steroids and the advice of self-help gurus. The most under-appreciated of last year’s films based around American excess and criminal activity it’s a shame after this Bay is going back to making films about giant robots and he is taking Wahlberg with him. 
9) The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrmann)
 
Luhrmann’s typically flamboyant take on Fitzgerald wound people up but I thought it worked well as an adaptation of a difficult to film novel and DiCaprio makes for an affecting Jay Gatsby.
Full review here.  The Great Gatsby
8) Il Futuro (Alicia Scherson)
 

Despite the hopeful promise of the title Scherson’s affecting idiosyncratic coming-of-age tale is about coping with the past. Orphaned teenager Bianca (Manuela Martelli) reluctantly becomes involved in a plan to rob Maciste (Rutger Hauer), a former movie star now retired after losing his sight in a car accident. What begins in poetic realist territory morphs into Beauty and the Beast as the young woman enters Maciste’s world, a mansion sparsely furnished save for memorabilia from the sword and sandals movies he once starred in. Scherson has fun using clips from the old Kirk Morris Hercules flicks to represent the young Maciste, while Hauer’s own screen history of being adept at playing either hero and villain means Maciste is an enigmatic figure, at once beguiling and potentially dangerous. There’s an otherness present too in the light which never stops shining through Bianca’s window, or the colour of the car her parents died in changing colour after the accident emphasising the difference between before and this new grief tinged life. 
7) Natan (Paul Duan & David Cairns)
 
Haunting documentary recovering the reputation of Bernard Natan, a successful film producer France in the 20’s and 30’s written out of cinema history despite his considerable contribution to the industry including owning Pathé at one point. An innovator Natan built his own all-purpose studio which still exists today as France’s leading film school though at present there is no record of his involvement. In-between interviews and archive footage a Natan effigy prowls an abandoned studio like a restless spirit countering the accusations which were levelled against him when he was alive. I saw Natan without knowing anything about the subject matter and that’s the best way to see this strange and heartbreaking story so I’ll say nothing about his downfall except to see this film and remember his name. 
6) Mud (Jeff Nichols)
Jeff Nichols has quietly emerged as one of the most distinct voices in American cinema over the last decade. Shotgun Stories (2007) is a small masterpiece though I found his breakthrough movie Take Shelter (2011) hard going. This soulful coming-of-age tale about a young boy befriending a killer hiding out on an island however is his most moving film to date. Nichols sympathy for all sides involved is remarkable as is his feel for small town life. And how pleasing to see one of the great American character actors, Joe Don Baker, back onscreen. 
5) Caesar Must Die (Paolo & Vittorio Taviani)
Certain scenes in Caesar Must Die are clearly staged for dramatic effect making this is more of a meta drama, a commentary on the nature of performance and themes in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar than a straight documentary. Most of the inmates in Rome’s Rebibbia prison are inside for their involvement in organised crime so the power struggles and violent betrayal clearly resonate with these men. Just as Shakespeare’s characters reveal themselves in private moments away from the crowd the Tavianis allow these men to talk in their cells about their own experiences and feelings about the play. Caesar Must Die opens with the final curtain being raised on a triumphant production and the journey there proves to be a moving study of the effect art can bring to people’s lives and of what it means to be confined. 
4) Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow)
Jessica Chastain’s CIA agent becomes the latest to exemplify Bigelow’s interest in obsessive loners searching for the ultimate high in this remarkable follow-up to The Hurt Locker (2008). A sober, reflective piece which is only controversial if you believe showing something onscreen be it torture or the deaths of civilians during the harrowing raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound condones it. In which case you’re an idiot. There is no triumphalism here only an acknowledgement of the terrible loss motivating the hunt for Bin Laden and the tempered knowledge by the time they finally caught up with him his death only mattered in symbolic terms. 
3) Après Mai (Olivier Assayas)
 
I really wasn’t expecting to like Après  Mai given the trailer made it look like yet another baby boomer hagiography of the 60’s. It’s so much more, a portrait of a filmmaker as a young man and the moment in life where youthful idealism must give way to pragmatism. Olivier Assayas autobiographical movie follows a group of teenagers trying to keep the spirit of 68′ alive at the onset of the next decade. Art and politics are intertwined. These kids are flawed, middle-class, and a little pretentious. They could be insufferable were it not for Assayas compassion towards them. It’s shot through with a hazy feel for lost summers and an increasingly melancholy tone as the reality of finding a place in the world begins to weigh upon them. 
 
2) Under the Skin (Jonathon Glazer)
 
A pared down adaptation of Michael Faber’s novel ‘Under the Skin,’ Glazer’s film is more opaque, less interested in explanations and owes a fair amount to the work of peak period Nicolas Roeg. A Hollywood star seems as unlikely a visitor to certain parts of Scotland as an extra-terrestrial so there is something quite surreal about seeing Scarlett Johansson at the wheel of a white transit van kerb-crawling for neds. Especially as she’s sporting a bubble perm that would have got her a place in the 1978 World Cup team. The filmmakers designed a lightweight hidden camera so Johansson could move freely amongst people without them knowing they are being filmed. It lends Under the Skin a cinema-verite feel. People are going about their daily lives in the background, unlike in most films where extras are trying hard not to stare at the camera. An unsettling and haunting piece of cinema which oddly enough belongs to the tradition of Scottish-set films (I Know Here I’m Going, Local Hero) suggesting this place can have a profound effect on the lone traveller.
1) The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino)
Sorrentino’s exhilarating odyssey through Rome follows an ageing writer as he begins to feel a growing sense of unease at his comfortable lifestyle. Jep (Toni Servillo) came to the city as a young man, wrote a great novel (or so his friends say) and threw himself into being a part of the Rome’s extravagant nightlife. The death of an old flame slowly begins to wear down his fastidious public persona. There is a tender relationship with a forty-something stripper, crying at funerals, and the urge once again to write a novel. La Dolce Vita (1962) is an obvious forerunner though Fellini damns his characters whereas Sorrentino loves these people despite their flaws and pretensions. All in their own way are searching for some kind of transcendence. The refrain Sorrentino (a master at finding the right music to accompany the lush images he puts onscreen) uses for Jep’s yearning is somewhat eclectically a song by the Scottish poet Robert Burns with the lyric “My Heart is in the Highlands/My Heart is Not Here,” the lament of a wanderer. Flashbacks of the young Jep’s idyllic youth seem to hold some meaning but are undercut in an enigmatic final sequence which suggests the lost lover would never have been enough. It’s all just a trick. 

 

The Angel’s Share (2012, Ken Loach) – Station Screening Notes

Only wrote a brief introduction for this screening as a guest speaker was due to make an appearance. If you’d told me when The Station started screening movies that one night there would have been a full house laughing uproariously at a Ken Loach movie I would have thought you were mental. 
malt whisky epitomises the inherent dichotomy of the Scottish psyche – at once passionate and rational, romantic and ironic, mystical and sceptical, heroic and craven, full of laughter and despair.’

Charles Maclean, Malt Whisky (1998)


 Scottish cinema can generally be divided into two categories – gritty urban dramas (Trainspotting, Neds) or charming escapism (Local Hero). Ken Loach’s The Angel’s Share manages to cover both territories with this tale of a young tearaway who finds redemption through a developing interest in Malt whisky. Robbie (Paul Brannigan) is a bright lad but never far away from trouble. Unable to extricate himself from a long-time feud with a local gang and hated by his pregnant girlfriend’s family he is running out of chances until kindly community services leader Harry (John Henshaw) takes him under his wing and introduces him to the pleasures of malt whisky. Loach and Glaswegian writer Paul Laverty have collaborated on fourteen other films several of which have been set in Scotlandincluding Carla’s Song (1994), My Name is Joe (98), and Ae Fond Kiss (2004). Always sympathetic to the plight of the underprivileged their work together particularly when dealing with Scots working class life has a great deal of humour present. The Angel’s Share is one of Loach’s warmest films, avoiding his tendency for didacticism but still managing to pass social commentary while being extremely entertaining. 

EIFF 2012 Roundup

Being from out of town I only managed a few days at this year’s festival. I wish I had been able to see Nicolas Provost’s The Invader which I heard great things about but here’s the pick of the movies I managed to catch while I was down there.
Killer Joe (William Friedkin)
Prior to his new film the opening the Edinburgh International Film Festival William Friedkin was at the Filmhouse for a special showing of his great crime thriller The French Connection (1971). Forty years later and Killer Joe feels like the work of a hotshot young director but that’s a backhanded compliment. It’s a dark and twisted tale channelling the same skewed Americanayou find in the novels of Barry Gifford, part thriller part fairytale. Based on a play by Tracy Letts, who also provided the material for Friedkin’s earlier Bug (2006), Friedkin opens out the action so even with the dialogue heavy scenes it never seems stagey. Yet Killer Joe is all surface with not much underneath. Witty in its deconstruction of the effects of the economic crisis and an overlying moral decay at the heart of a society where monetary gain is placed above all else, the film’s main flaw is it simply does not give a damn about these people. It works effectively as post-feminist revisionist fairytale in which the female victim tames the big bad wolf but that was done better by Matthew Bright in his Freeway movies.
McConaughey’s much vaunted lead performance falls flat. I kept looking at McConaughey in his cowboy hat and couldn’t help wishing for the easy but menacing charm of Timothy Olyphant. Juno Templehowever is remarkable as the otherwordly Dottie, a little girl lost with sharp teeth, at once innocent and yet far more dangerous than any of her dysfunctional family or the various killers and ne’er-do-wells who appear throughout the film. It says a lot about the MPAA that such a tame film has been denied a USrelease because of Friedkin’s refusal to bow to their demands for cuts. I’m guessing a close-up of Gina Gershon’s bush would be on the MPAA’S hit list but it is telling while both female leads go full frontal Matthew McConaughey’s genitals are discreetly hidden away. It’s that kind of film, plenty of front but no balls
Grabbers (Jon Wright)


Possibly the best film I’ve seen in which a drunken Irishman kicks an alien to death, Grabbers was a pleasant surprise. Imagine an Irish Local Hero crossed with 80’s horror films like Tremors and Ghoulies and you have an idea of what to expect as a small island is invaded by squid like creatures with a taste for human blood. Richard Coyle (Pusher) is charming as the feckless Garda officer who is perked up by the arrival of an uptight colleague (Ruth Bradley) from the mainland. With a witty screenplay, impressive CGI, and a great supporting cast including Bronagh Gallagher (Pulp Fiction) Grabbers deserves to reach as wide an audience as possible.
Dragon (Peter Chan)


Highly entertaining martial arts film choreographed by star Donnie Yen with a great performance from Takeshi Kaneshiro as a troubled detective piecing together how a country bumpkin Liu Jin-xi (Yen) not only survives a confrontation with two ruthless killers but somehow leaves them both dead. Peter Chan’s film is an intriguing and thoughtful addition to the Wu Xia genre. A Chinese variation on David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence its plot grips as the audience is left wondering whether Jin-xi is who he claims to be or Xu Bia-jiu (Kaneshiro) is imagining things that aren’t there.
Shadow Dancer (James Marsh)

 This understated thriller is a throwback to the kind of films that British and Irish cinema regularly produced about the Troubles in the 80’s and early 90’s. Set in 1993 just before the peace process begins to take hold Shadow Dancer is based on a novel by former journalist Tom Bradby. Director James Marsh, better known for his documentary work, has an eye for detail and the film is certainly gripping. Single mother and IRA volunteer Collette (Andrea Riseborough) finds herself forced to tout for the British security forces by MI5 operative Mac (Clive Owen) but unforeseen events put her life in serious danger as IRA hardman Mulville (David Wilmot) starts asking questions. Shadow Dancer is well acted and interesting but there is nothing here we haven’t seen before in those earlier films which were contemporaneous and had an urgency about them that is missing here.

My Favourite Films About My Ain Folk

I’m a Scot so I thought I’d list my ten favourite films set in my homeland. They are arranged by date rather than by order of preference. 

I Know Where I’m Going! (Michael Powell 1945)

Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller) is on her way to the Hebridean isle of Killoran (a made up place, filming was done on Mull) to marry a rich industrialist. Joan’s materialistic approach to life is challenged by her experiences in Scotland. Especially when she begins to fall for a fellow traveller, a Naval Officer played with such remarkable charm by Roger Livesey you find yourself pointing at the screen saying “him, that one, you stuck up posh bint.” The whimsical elements are never overdone by Michael Powell and the suggestion the Scottish landscape can have a profound effect on a visiting outsider was revisited by Bill Forsyth in Local Hero (1983).

Whisky Galore (Alexander Mackendrick 1949)

Though sometimes attacked for being twee and patronising Whisky Galore is much more cynical than its reputation suggests.  Mackendrick’s dark worldview which would be most evident in The Sweet Smell of Success (1957) is present in this Ealing comedy too.  The pompous incomer Captain Waggett tries to apply the law and prevent the islanders raiding a stricken vessel but the locals run rings around him.  Wagget’s choice is simple, assimilate or leave. 

Culloden (Peter Watkins 1964)

A sober antidote to the romantic myths that have sprung up around the battle at Culloden, Watkins tells the story from the perspectives of everybody involved.  The Highlanders are starving and ill prepared. Lowland Scots fight for the Crown believing it is in the best interests of Scotland.  This was no glorious failure but a tragic waste of life.  A pioneer of the drama-documentary Watkins used handheld cameras and non-professional actors to give a sense of realism.
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (Billy Wilder 1974)

 Holmes and Watson take the sleeper train to Inverness to solve a case involving a beautiful amnesiac, a sextuplet of missing circus midgets, and the Loch Ness Monster. Sinister locals warn them to stay away from the Loch. Such encounters are unlikely to happen to anybody visiting these days. Loch Ness is Scotland’s answer to Disneyland; though unlike Uncle Walt, our monster never existed. Just kidding Walt Disney’s Estate. A ruined masterpiece, United Artists cut great chunks out of the film.  Miklos Rozca’s score is one of his best. Robert Stephens is perfect as Holmes; world-weary, and funny, he is wise enough to know love is best avoided whenever possible but still can’t help himself. 

 
Macbeth (Roman Polanski, 1971)
 Orson Welles 1948 version is the more imaginative, but Polanski’s brutal approach suits Shakespeare’s play. It’s a disturbing film; the violence is intimate and gruesome.  Given events in his own life before he made this film you can understand why Polanski never held back. Jon Finch’s understated Macbeth attracts criticism from the theatrically inclined because his speeches do not soar, but it’s a great film performance.  Bizarrely Macbeth remains the only film to be financed by Playboy Magazine, which may explain why Francesca Annis spends half the film naked. Still at least she wasn’t wearing bunny ears and a bobtail. I still can’t believe our English teacher showed this to us when we were kids. 

The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy 1973)
 
Scotland’s weirdest film is a horror musical contrasting Scots Calvinism with old fashioned folk rituals. Morally upright copper Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) is summoned from the mainland to help search for a missing girl on an island. Trouble is nobody seems to know anything about the girl. The locals are clearly nuts, even the ones who aren’t Lindsay Kemp. There’s bawdy singing in the local pub, couples fornicating outside it, and Christopher Lee wandering around in a kilt. I swear I’ve seen three different version of this film and I’ve no idea which works best. A cinematic one-off, unsettling in its use of locations and quite how anybody thought they could replicate this either through a remake or a sequel is beyond me.

My Way Home (Dir. Bill Douglas 1978)

Douglas is one of Britain’s great lost film directors and this is his finest work. My Way Home is the final part in a trilogy based on Douglas’s own childhood. Jamie’s harsh upbringing was the focus of My Childhood and My Ain Folk. Now 17, he is used to feeling worthless, being hit, or being patronised by those higher up the social ladder. While carrying out his National Service abroad, Jamie is befriended and drawn out of his shell by an upper-class Englishman. Jamie’s realization that he can fulfill his artistic intentions is one of cinema’s most moving and hopeful coming-of-age stories.

Gregory’s Girl (Bill Forsyth 1981)

Hard to pick between this and Forsyth’s Local Hero, but Gregory’s Girl just shades it for its originality. Gawky schoolboy footballer Gregory (John Gordon Sinclair) makes the mistake of telling his coach that football is only a game. Blasphemy! As punishment he’s put in goals and his place in the team goes to a girl, Dorothy (Dee Hepburn). Gregory is smitten, but unfortunately he is as hopeless off the pitch as he is on it. Forsyth isn’t so much interested in football, as the pains of adolescence and the humour he can derive from both. It’s also as far as I’m aware the first Scottish film to be set in one of the New Towns that sprang up in the late 70’s.  
Highlander (Russell Mulcahy 1986)
Handsome, French-accented antiques dealer Russell Nash has a dark secret, he is Scottish. MacLeod has been around for a few hundred years and now resides in New York.  While its quirky star Christopher Lambert is generally considered to have attempted the worst Scottish accent at the movies, his detractors are missing the point. This is a movie about an immortal engaging in an ongoing battle through the centuries to win a mystical prize. There is no need for realism. Besides, Lambert is not the first Scot to speak with a French accent; Mary Queen of Scots for instance, was more Catherine Deneuve than Cathy from Kelvingrove.  If you are snobbish about watching action movies, content yourself with viewing Highlander as mediation on being an emigrant; you can leave your homeland behind, you can change your name, you can decapitate a whole bunch of people, but you’ll still find yourself day-dreaming about the place you came from.
Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay 2002)
Few films have captured the longing to escape from a small-town existence better than Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Alan Warner’s novel, Morvern Callar. Supermarket check-out girl Morvern awakes to find her boyfriend has killed himself. On his computer is a finished novel which she claims as her own. Keeping his death a secret, Morvern makes some money by winning a publishing deal and travels abroad. The film has its flaws. Warner’s novel is very funny but Ramsay has yet to show any signs of having a sense of humour at all.  Samantha Morton’s decision not to attempt a Scots accent means Morvern sounds like she’s an incomer rather than a girl who’s never been far from her hometown.  Despite this Ramsay fashions an elliptical, near wordless gem, in which Scotland feels like the loneliest place on earth and life is elsewhere.