There are many reasons why we chose our theme this week. First and foremost, it’s because Scotland has never been in the news as much as it has been recently, and if you couldn’t be in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, or Glasgow this week to witness the historic independence referendum, these three movies can whisk you away to the lochs, braes, and byres of Scotland. Then there’s the fact that most people associate Scotland with “Braveheart,” and that is offensive on too many levels to articulate here. And finally, because from the tip of Ben Nevis to the waters of Loch Lomond to the ancient walls of the St Andrews Cathedral, Scotland is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and what better way to see that than through the lens of a camera? So, without further ado, here are three movies set in the land of kilts, bagpipes, St. Andrew, and haggis.
“I Know Where I’m Going!” (1945)
Cast: Wendy Hiller, Roger Livesey, Finlay Currie, Murdo Morrison, Margot Fitzsimons, C.W.R. Knight, Pamela Brown
Available for rent or purchase on Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix
Young, ambitious Englishwoman Joan Webster (Hiller) seems a confident, even domineering soul when we first meet her – the title’s declaration, after all, is hers, shouted out the window of a departing train to her father as she sets out from Manchester to the Hebrides, the rugged isles off of Scotland’s western coast. Joan is engaged to marry a wealthy nobleman, but poor weather delays the final leg of her journey, stranding her on the Isle of Mull, along with a handsome naval officer (Livesey) trying to make his way out to the same isolated island for his shore leave. The setup is predictable from today’s rom-com vantage point, but Hiller and Livesey’s chemistry is palpable, and director/writers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger have a natural, unforced way with dialogue and direction, generally avoiding set-pieces (save a thrilling, if awkwardly rear-projected, attempt to cross stormy seas in a dinghy) and letting the unique charms of the setting and characters carry the film.
“The Illusionist” (2010)
Cast: (voices of) Jean-Claude Donda, Eilidh Rankin
Available for purchase on Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix
Jacques Tati might be a cinematic treasure of France, but his (sort-of) final film turned out to be an unexpected love letter to the Firth of Forth. The legendary comedian (who passed in 1982), most known for the Monsieur Hulot persona that appeared in his gentle, pseudo-silent comedies like “Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday” (1953) and “Playtime” (1967), wrote a screenplay about an aging French illusionist who encounters and ends up taking care of a young woman, which remained unproduced for decades – until animator Sylvain Chomet (“The Triplets of Belleville”) took up the script, relocating the action to take place, for the vast majority of the film, in and around Edinburgh. The quiet, heart-wrenching surrogate father/daughter narrative (Tati reputedly wrote the screenplay as a sort of mea culpa to either, depending on who you believe, his daughter Sophie or his estranged, illegitimate daughter Helga Marie-Jeanne) is complemented by Chomet’s devastatingly beautiful animation: warm, crisp, evocative, a memory of life and love gone by.
“The Decoy Bride” (2011)
Cast: Kelly Macdonald, David Tennant, Alice Eve, Hamish Clark, Federico Castelluccio, James Fleet, Dylan Moran, Sally Phillips
Available streaming on Netflix, for purchase on Amazon Instant and iTunes
“The Hegg is the furthermost drop of the outermost spray of the curling wave of the Outer Hebrides,” writes Katie (Kelly Macdonald), a young woman from the westernmost islands of Scotland, where 27,000 people live scattered over islands of craggy rock and windswept long grass. When an American celebrity and her groom (David Tennant) escape to the Hebrides for a wedding away from the relentless paparazzi, Katie’s life suddenly gets a lot more interesting. “The Decoy Bride” is a silly movie based on an absurd premise, but the lead actors, Macdonald and Tennant, rise above the mediocre material to deliver a sweet, wacky romance. The true star of the movie, however, is again the rough beauty of the Hebrides—the grey rain that leaves behind a bright green, the moody cliffs overlooking the water, and the white spray of the sea upon the crags.