Director: Douglas Mackinnon.
Cast: Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Boyd, Laura Fraser and Brian Cox.
The Flying Scotsman is an entertaining and engrossing film based upon the life of Scottish cyclist, Graeme Obree.
Obree lives in a small village with his wife and children running a small bicycle shop that is selling off the last of its stock. Struggling to provide financial support for his family, Obree becomes a bicycle courier in Glasgow. There he meets a fellow companion who joins him on a mad-cap idea to beat the velodrome one hour record using a home-made bicycle. Along the way, Obree battles with depression and bipolar disorder.
Jonny Lee Miller plays Graeme Obree almost completely unsympathetically. There is nothing really to like about his character. He is selfish, stubborn, pig-headed and at times cold. What we see is a man with acute emotional problems which in turn takes its toll on those around him. Not once in the film does he apologise for his actions. In the movie, the secret to Graeme Obree’s success is the incredible support that he receives from those who care deeply about him.
What isn’t clear about Miller’s acting is the intent. The viewer doesn’t know whether Miller is purposefully playing Obree to be unsympathetic. If he is then both he and the director must be given praise for showing just how self-centred and self-consuming the disease of depression can be.
Billy Boyd aptly plays Obree’s friend and manager, Malky. A genial man who wants to be liked and accepted by Obree, Malky is the one who allows the cyclist the chance to fulfil his ambition.
‘It is such restraint that is the mark of good acting’
Ann Obree, portrayed by Laura Fraser, is Obree’s dutiful and loyal wife. She is the one who has to deal with Obree’s mood swings and darker personality on a constant basis. Fraser never attempts to overplay the character and manages to convey her inner turmoil with what seems the least amount of effort. It is such restraint that is the mark of good acting and can be often overlooked by viewers in favour of showy, pretentious limelight-hogging.
Brian Cox’s Douglas Baxter is a likeable and sagacious man who befriends Obree. Baxter provides a glimpse into Obree’s inner turmoil and emotionally supports the cyclist. His character also bestows one or two memorable scenes of comic relief.
The cinematography of The Flying Scotsman deserves special mention. Some of the cycling scenes are fantastic as not only do you get a sense of speed but you are placed right in the heart of the race. Scotland is also shown to be an idyllic country full of green pastures and rolling hills.
However, it is the scenes in the velodrome that must get special mention. Velodromes are huge in comparison to athletics tracks and a lap of the track can be 1000 metres in length. At such long lengths, the speed of the riders can look disproportionately slow. So The Flying Scotsman deserves full credit for showing the true speed of racing events.
‘They come across as a despicable and pernicious bunch that are all too precious about their sport’
One group that do not come out too well in the film is the highly conservative and somewhat archaic Union Cycliste Internationale which governs cycling. Members of the body object to Obree’s radically designed bike and unorthodox riding style. They come across as a despicable and pernicious bunch that are all too precious about their sport.
The Flying Scotsman delivers on an exciting film. But it also manages to never patronise the viewer. The dialogue and plot is pared back nicely and there is very little superfluous exposition. What that leaves is a gritty reality that is tempered further by Obree’s personality problems. An exotic mix, The Flying Scotsman fuses the typical sports film with something far more substantial and darker. And it is this unsettlingly fusion which will leave a lasting impression.
Highly Recommended Get The Film Through Amazon
Check out Yellow Magpie’s Graeme Obree: The Turbulent Flying Scotsman for a fascinating insight into the man.
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