Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Scotland: Land of Heroes

On my first trip to Scotland, upon the recommendation of my Scottish mother-in-law, we stopped at a gas station/gift shop called The Canny Scot where you could choose between canned and frozen haggis, sample the delight known as tablet and get a bargain price on smoked fish. For me, the biggest lure of the Canny Scot was their incredible collection of cheesy t-shirts. I settled on one emblazoned with pictures of Mel Gibson as Braveheart and Liam Neeson as Rob Roy and that read "Scotland: Land of Heroes." (The wonderful irony of this is that Mel Gibson is Australian and Liam Neeson is Irish.) As it is Burns Night this evening, I thought I would round up some of my favorites from Scotland: Land of Heroes.

I Know Where I'm Going
: Best movie about Scotland, ever. A romantic comedy set in the Scottish Hebrides starring Roger Livesey and Wendy Hiller. Of course, Scotland itself is a character and film-makers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's cinematography is hauntingly beautiful. The tone of the film is quiet and the humor subdued. Best of all no one gets drawn and quartered.

Local Hero: This 1983 film by Scottsih director, Bill Forsyth, was seen by few people, except for the producers of Northern Exposure who completely ripped it off for the series. The story is about an oil man (Peter Reigert) who comes to a remote Scottish village to purchase the town and finds one lone hermit who refuses to sell up. As in I Know Where I'm Going, one of the highlights of the film is a ceilidh, or a Scottish country dance.

The Ghost Goes West/The 39 Steps: I'm always up for a Robert Donat double feature. While the former features Donat in a kilt, sporting a somewhat outrageous accent, the latter has Hitchcock using Scotland as a dramatic background for some of his most intense chase scenes.

My Life So Far: I admit that I stumbled on this movie during my time as a Colin Firth completionist. (As if I'm over my Colin Firth phase!). It's difficult to tease out my feelings for the film's leading actor, but I quite liked the between the wars, coming of age story on its own merit. The Scottish castle and setting are beautifully filmed and the whole thing is quirky and pleasant if not deeply profound.

Rob Roy: Longing to be a rip-roaring swashbuckling adventure movie, this film is ultimately too heavy to really do the genre properly. Liam Neeson and Jessica Lang are really pretty wonderful in the romantic parts of the film, and if you are into broad swords, then the ending of the film is a must see. Tim Roth and John Hurt round out the cast as vile villainous villains. Roth especially stands out as the loathsome Archibald Cunningham an evil and stylish man, the likes of which we haven't seen on screen since the days of Basil Rathbone.

Mary of Scotland: Hollywood knows how to do spectacle and this costume drama from Warner Brothers has plenty of pipers on castle ramparts. Katharine Hepburn and Frederich March play Mary Queen of Scots and James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, lovers enmeshed in court politics. Donald Crisp, John Carradine and Douglas Walton round out the excellent cast.

Brigadoon: Ok, take what I said in my write-up of Mary of Scotland and multiply it by ten. This is what happens when the big studio glamor machine goes bonkers on a meme. In this case, the idea that Scottish people wear as much plaid as possible, tams on their heads and like to dance a reel. Filmed on a sound stage it lacks the authenticity of the other films in this list, but with a blazing, bright technicolor widescreen transfer, it's difficult to say no to Gene Kelly, Sid Charisse and Vincente Minnelli production values.

Highlander: I'm kind of amazed that this movie didn't make the Canny Scot's t-shirt of Scottish heroes played by foreign actors. Perhaps they feared that people would confuse Christopher Lambert with Mel Gibson as they are difficult to tell apart when they are all done up in their highlander garb. (Hint: Mel has the blue face.) The story of an immortal Scottish warrior (Christopher Lambert) and his Spanish fight trainer (Sean Connery with a pearl earring) and their adventure across time to defeat fellow immortal and vile villainous villain, the Kergan (Clancy Brown.) In many ways, this is the movie that Rob Roy wanted to be, but couldn't because it had to stick to some semblance of historical accuracy. It's shamelessly entertaining, surprisingly original and will have you shouting, "there can only be one" in your next outing involving swordplay.

Braveheart: My least favorite of the films on this list, though it does contain a bravura performance from one of my favorite obscure actors, David O'Hara who plays Stephen the Mad Irishman. (O'Hara, ironically was one of the few native Scottish actors with a speaking part in the film). Action film lovers can look to the film's influential battle scenes whose up-close, visceral style became the standard for this sort of thing. It's a bit like watching the Lord of the Rings, actually: a lot of guys with long, dirty hair, giving rousing speeches, head-butting each other. At least there's lots of kilts.


patuxxa said...

I'm giddy with you inclusion of Highlander. It's madly campy in some parts - Sean Connery, the one real Scot in the movie, plays a 2.000 year-old Egyptian man who in the movie's time has assumed the identity of a flamboyant Spaniard, red velvet and plumes and all! But good heavens, that Queen soundtrack gets me going every time.

Jennythenipper said...

Hey, Patuxxa, well I debated about it and then I decided, what the hey. I think Rob Roy actually borrows quite a lot from the style of the flashback sections of the film. I love that Connery, the only Scotsman is supposed to be Egyptian/Spanish and he still more or less has his Scottish accent. That is so classic. I hadn't watched this one in ages but the roundup made me go back and revisit it. It holds up better than I would expect.

patuxxa said...

Just for the sake of your sanity, do not go near any of the sequels - if only they'd have followed their own motto of "There can be only one"!

SteveQ said...

Yesterday being Burns Day in Scotland, I just had to watch Craig Ferguson last night to see what he had to say. (Paraphrasing) "It's traditional to pour whiskey over the haggis and then stab it - because in Scotland, that's foreplay."

That's pure Scot humo(u)r.

SteveQ said...

Oh, and since you're back, you missed my last Rupert Pupkinish post.

Jennythenipper said...

Well, yeah, of course, Steve, that's how thy roll in Scotland...whiskey and stabbing.

At our house, we drink the whiskey. We don't waste it on the haggis.

Ferguson's foreplay remark reminds me of the time Graham and I were at a Japanese spa. They were rubbing us with salt and dumping hot water on us and Graham said, that if they had a Scottish spa they would beat you with a cold fish, douse you with icy seawater and then give you a glass of whiskey and a scratchy wool blanket and of, course, the bill.

I'll check out the Pupkin-ery!

Nora said...

Tunes of Glory didn't make your list. If you haven't seen it, please do. It is one of the best.

Jennythenipper said...

Oh, man, Nora, I'd not even heard of this one. The trailer alone is kilts-a-go-go.


I'll definitely put it in the Netflix queue.

BTW, finally saw King's Speech yesterday. Enjoy Colin Firth in kilt and a plaid-tastic Balmoral sequence.

Nora said...

Jenny, you won't get much of the beauty of Scotland in this one, but Alec Guinness thought it among his best performances. And I have to agree. But my heart goes to John Mills in this film.

So zip it to the front of the queque.

Jennythenipper said...

Better yet, found it on Youtube so I can watch it tonight it I have the chance. I love John Mills. I'm stoked.

SteveQ said...

Not your field, but I did another movie post:

I may have to start a crap film blog!

panavia999 said...

I agree about I Know Where I'm Going and Local Hero. My personal favorites of Scottish films are Tunes of Glory, The Maggie and Whiskey Galore. Tunes of Glory is heavy stuff indeed. You'll need of the others as an antidote! The Maggie is especially charming.

Jennythenipper said...

panavia, I've not even heard of The Maggie and Whiskey Galore. I'll need to look them up. I thought of another movie set ins Scotland called The Ratcatcher which was a Mike Leigh style film about a garbage collection strike in Glasgow in the seventies. Cheerful stuff! I will have a Tunes of Glory post very soon.

zzi said...

I Know Where I'm Going
Always recommnd this film. Wish I had a copy. Came here looking for "When Ladies Meet" photo

Anonymous said...

Here's a funny thing ... I'm from Scotland and often stopped at The Canny Scot on our annual family travels north from our exile in the south. Thanks for including IKWIG, possibly my favourite film ever.

Tom said...

"Brigadoon" wasn't shot in Technicolor but Ansco Color, an inferior, Eastmancolor-like negative process prone to fading over time.

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