Outlaw King 2018 ***


pine_outlaw_kingAfter the high of Hell or High Water, the reteaming of star Chris Pine and director David Mackenzie promised much, but critical derision after festival screenings at Toronto knocked the wind out of its sails and it’s appearance on Netflix went largely unheralded. Whatever its issues, it’s a straight-up historical epic with lots of action and a different POV on similar events to Braveheart. US reviewers who saw Outlaw King as a sequel to Mel Gibson’s film should take a history lesson; William Wallace is seen here only as a corpse, and the focus is positively on Robert the Bruce, who Gibson’s film relegates to a minor role. As played by Pine, Robert the Bruce is determined but politically naïve, and it takes a series of defeats and setbacks before Bruce successfully turns the tide. Some groan-worthy dialogue mars the grand scale of the action, and the casting on non-Scots in all the central roles creates a feeling on unreality. But the big battle scenes are rousing, and Outlaw King’s larger-than-life heroics, like the enormous catapult seen in the opening moments, deserve to be more widely seen.



Neither The Sea Nor The Sand 1972 ***


Amazon seems to be challenging Netflix by countering billions spent on original content by dusting off some of the dustiest properties in their back-catalogue. Why would you want to watch Stranger Things when you’ve got access to Neither The Sea Nor The Sand, a 1972 British horror film featuring dyslexia champion Susan Hampshire as a woman who conjures her lover from the dead after her dies in an accident? With a straightforward Pet Semetary plotline, taken from ITN newsreader Gordon Honeycombe’s novel, Fred Burnley’s film wrestles with the morality of resurrecting the dead within the confines of one relationship as Anna (Hampshire) visits Scotland and falls for lighthouse keeper High (Michael Petrovich), but his second life as a taciturn zombie isn’t a success; the sex is good, but his rotting flesh soon becomes an issue. Neither the Se Nor The Sand is a strange little film, with not enough flesh on the bones in terms of story, and yet there’s a lyrical, haunting feel that’s hard to forget.



The Winter Guest 1997 ***

the winter guest

The first directorial entry from the late actor Alan Rickman, this adaptation of Sharman MacDonald’s play is a sensitive, beautifully told drama of small-town Scottish life. Recently widowed photographer Frances (Emma Thompson) is planning a migration to Australia when her mother Elsbeth comes to visit. Played by Phyllida Law, Elsbeth is concerned about her daughter’s listlessness; as the sea freezes over, a conflict emerges between the women, and a sense of understanding. The Winter Guest balances analysis of this mother/daughter power-struggle with the exploits of her son (Gary Hollywood) as he warders the beach, with Tom (Sean Biggerstaff) amongst those he encounters. Macdonald’s ability to accurately observe several generations serves her well in this intense, yet sometimes whimsical chamber piece, with wonderful photography by Seamus McGarvey.

Death Watch 1980 *****


Bertrand Tavernier’s mesmerising film has been out of view for decades; it’s something of a welcome delight to find it popping up on Amazon Instant Video. A remarkably prescient sci-fi drama, it stars as Romy Schnieder as Katherine Mortenhoe, a woman who finds herself unwittingly the subject of a reality television show. Harvey Keitel has a camera implanted in his head, and is assigned to follow her around as she dies. He falls in love with her, and the two of them go on the run in 1980 Scotland. Tavernier’s vision of the future is bang-on, using the derelict areas of Glasgow to artfully suggest a very real dystopia. With great performances, a literate script and a genuine sense of romance, Death Watch is a classic film that demands to be seen. Based on the novel The Unsleeping Eye by David G Compton, with Max Von Sydow, Harry Dean Stanton and a svelte Robbie Coltrane in the cast.


The McKenzie Break 1970 ***


Something of a one-off, director Lamont Johnson’s WWII film has a surprising premise; it’s a POW story, but the prisoners are Germans, help in a camp in Scotland. Brian Keith is Captain Jack Connor, brought in to suss out how and when the break will happen; his opposite number is Willi Schlueter (Helmut Griem), and a cat and mouse game ensues. Based on a book by Sidney Shelley called The Bowmanville Break, the story has been moves from Canada to Scotland, and then filmed in Ireland, so some sense of place has been lost, but Keith, Ian Hendry and a cast of TV veterans ensure that Johnson’s film has a strong sense of the grimy nature of internment. Rarely seen, The McKenzie Break is a welcome addition to the POW cycle.

Culloden 1964 ***


Long before Paul Greengrass sprang onto the scene, Peter Watkins was an enfant terrible of British political cinema, taking on the authorities with potent and challenging fictions, and also staging imaginative reconstructions like 1964’s The Battle of Culloden. Predating The War Game, his celebrated consideration of what a nuclear war would be like, Culloden fixes itself onto one of the great military battles of history, the last stand of Bonnie prince Charlie and a battle between Scots and English forces that proved to be the last of British soil. Watkins films proceedings as if TV camera were actually there, interviewing soldiers for vox-pops on all sides and conveying a you-are-there feel. The atmosphere if 1746 is caught in stark black and white; whatever the arguments are for or against Scottish nationalism, and Culloden is remarkably even handed for a film about a massacre, Watkins makes a strong case for war as a destructive force.

Local Hero 1983 *****


Bill Forsyth sprang from a non-existent film industry in Scotland, making it look easy to make accomplished, sensitive films with a local twist in Gregory’s Girl and That Sinking Feeling. Probably his most accomplished is this biting yet wistful comedy, with US businessman Mac Peter Reigert heading to Scotland at the behest of industrialist Felix Happer (Burt Lancaster) to buy up a small village run by Urquhart (Dennis Lawson). The obstacle they face is Ben (Fulton Mackay) a beachcomber who owns the area they need for a refinery. Local Hero has plenty of neat jabs about the soulnessness of business and the joys of community, beautifully played by an eclectic cast. Arguably the best film about Scotland, Local Hero is a charming film about going back to your roots.