r I: .1 4,4;
olk song lyrics and shortbread tins.
half-remembered school lessons and
glossy displays in tourist centres — it’s
no wonder many Scots have a confused
sense of their own heritage. Once
Hollywood enters the fray and hijacks our historical heroes for big budget epics. you could be forgiven for thinking we should just parcel up our past and send it off to America. tied up with a pretty tartan ribbon.
Any fears over how a relatively short Australian will tackle a Scot known to be over 6ft tall will be proved or disproved when Mel Gibson‘s full—blooded rendition of the William Wallace story. Brave/wart. is released at the end of the summer. Before then. however. comes Rob Roy. The money — around $25 million of it — might be American and the star might be Irish. but it was written. directed and produced by Scots. and was shot on home turf by a predominantly Scottish cast and crew. But there‘s more to it than story and landscape: in its
L.__- . __
very sensibility. Rob Roy is a passionately
Scottish movie that retains its credibility far
more than anyone could ever have hoped for.
llam Neeson as Rob Roy - ‘It was wonderful to stand there. dressed in the period, and know that these bills and mountains haven’t changed in millennia‘
Outlaw and cattle thief, or noble man of dignity? Whatever your viewpoint, Rob Roy MacGregor has become Scotland’s biggest screen hero. Alan Morrison checks out the multi-million dollar movie Rob Roy and talks to its Scottish—born producer PETER BROUGHAN.
The real Rob Roy Macgregor was born in 167l into a clan whose very name. just a few years before. had been banned as part of a series
of harsh laws. (‘attle were his chief source of
income and. as the head of an armed band who fought off thieves from the north. he probably wasn‘t against extorting a little protection money from his neighbours as a lucrative sideline. Nor was it unknown for him to plunder the odd cow himself in the name of the Jacobite
cause. In I716. he declared war on the Duke of
Montrose after his wife and children had been turned out oftheir home on account of an unpaid debt. but was not captured until eleven years later. During this titne. his quick wits kept him out of the hands of his enemies and allowed him to share the spoils of his forays on the rich with several of his poorer countrymen.
Pretty much the same ground is covered by Rol) Roy the movie. albeit without the less
respectable character traits and deeds. Screenwriter Alan Sharp‘s script holds much more integrity than the shameless
mythologising that has followed Sir Walter Scott‘s rousing account of the Macgregor story.
Scotland the brave
In the early I97()s. Greenock-born Sharp wrote two excellent Hollywood westerns — Billy Two Hats and Ulzana's Raid — and. to some extent. Rob Roy has the story structure of a western: the
rancher. whose wife is raped and homestead ‘
burned. heads out for a final showdown with his nemesis. Westerns tend. however. to have an individualist hero. and what makes Rol) Roy unassailably Scottish is the way that Sharp expands this notion to create a man with a strong sense of family. who takes pride in his role as provider for a community. This Rob has classless ideals — ‘All men with honour are kings. but not all kings have honour.” he tells his sons — and. if he‘s not exactly identical to the historical figure. then he‘s certainly a manifestation of how the Scots would like to see themselves as a nation.
It is also to director Michael Caton-Jones’s
credit that he doesn‘t fall into the trap of
overdoing the scenery shots and pandering to those who were expecting a straightforward.
mainstream. epic romp. There are elements of
Robin Hood in the character. but the approach is far too intelligent to go for the easy laughs and romanticism of a l’rinee Of Thieves. That’s not to say that Rob Roy doesn‘t have its exciting
‘Liam Neeson brings a natural Celtic grace to the lead role; his presence commands respect without resorting to on-screen heroic clichés.’
sequences — the film‘s strong opening at the American box office is positive proof that it’s a winner in crowd-pleasing terms. It is also. however. a rich and literate piece that will stand up to repeated viewings.
Liam Neeson brings a natural Celtic grace to the lead role; his presence commands respect without resorting to on-screen heroic cliches. Jessica Lange‘s Mary is far beyond the usual ‘wife‘ character; this is a multi-dimensional ‘real‘ woman who is allowed her own brand of heroism and who possesses an earthy sensuality. As the vile Cunningham. a bewigged Tim Roth stops short of pantomime antics by giving a psychotic edge to the villain: his sense of a bastard‘s badness for badness’s sake is closer to the Edmund of King Lear than anything. In fact. if Shakespeare was around today and writing for the big screen. he’d be pretty pleased with himself if his second Scottish play turned out as good as this.
Sure. in practical terms. Rob Roy will give the tourist industry a boost: but. in its own right. this is a Scottish film to be very proud of. To have produced a film that is thrilling. entertaining. articulate and witty at the same time is a minor miracle. Scotland has for some time expressed its sense of identity in literature. poetry and fine art: now. at last. it has found its cultural voice in cinema. '.J Rob Roy opens in Scotland on Friday I 9 May. Its s'tar-sltalded cast will be out in force at the European premiere in Iz'dinbmylz on Sunday 14
6The List 5-18 May 1995