Starring Role: The Flying Scotsman

I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know too much about the story of Graeme Obree, one of Scottish sport’s more interesting characters, before watching The Flying Scotsman. I haven’t read his book of the same name on which it is based, so I am going to refrain from commenting too much on the storyline here and will focus more on the relevance of the movie to Glasgow – which is after all the primary purpose of this blog.

To summarise briefly before moving onto Glasgow matters, following a brief childhood back story we are taken forward to 1993 where Obree (played by Jonny Lee Miller) is working as a cycle courier. At the same time his Prestwick bicycle shop is closing down. However a spark of inspiration sees him set a personal goal of breaking the world hour record for cycling – a goal he builds up to in the short space of eight weeks, during which he constructs his own bike made of all manner of parts, including – famously – washing machine components. He successfully breaks the record – set by Francesco Moser in 1984 – although his own record is broken less than a week later by Englishman Chris Boardman.

The film has surprisingly little focus on the much hyped rivalry between Obree and Boardman, with the main villain of the piece appearing to be Steven Berkoff’s German World Cycling Federation official, who seems hell bent on preventing the Scotsman from glory. We also see Obree bullied in childhood, with the same bullying individuals rounding on him in adulthood – it is unusual in an “underdog story” biopic to see the hero treated with such malice even after the life-changing moment(s) in their story.

There is plenty of focus on Obree’s positive relationships – with wife Anne (Laura Fraser), friend and manager Malky (Billy Boyd) and Douglas Baxter (Brian Cox) – a local minister who encourages Obree on his goal and lends him his workshop to build his bicycle. The film also acknowledges Obree’s bipolar disorder.

At the start of the film we are brought from Graeme Obree’s school days up to date with the caption “GLASGOW 1993” as we see the cyclist riding along Argyle Street at the “Heilanman’s Umbrella”. With both Graeme and Malky working as cycle couriers there are numerous scenes and views recorded in the city centre throughout, with other locations including Bothwell Street, West George Street and Scott Street.

Glasgow landmarks also double for a couple of overseas locations. A cleverly shot – although still identifiable – view of the Clyde Auditorium is used to represent the Hamar Stadium in Norway. I thought it odd that such a well known Scottish landmark should have been used when there are plenty of more generic structures around Glasgow and Scotland, but then I saw a picture of the real stadium and understood the choice – it has a distinctive armour plated appearance not unlike that which earned the Glasgow venue its “Armadillo” nick name. Meanwhile the exterior of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is used to represent the World Cycling Federation headquarters.

Glasgow’s Global Visitors: Elijah Wood

Name: Elijah Wood

Born: 28th January 1981 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA

Credits include: The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The RingEternal Sunshine Of The Spotless MindGreen Street

Reason for visiting Glasgow:

One of the happier real-life stories to come out of Hollywood in recent years has been the warm friendship that blossomed between the hobbit portraying co-stars of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan.

In December 2010 Glaswegian Boyd married his long term partner Ali McKinnon at Oran Mor, on the corner of Great Western Road and Byres Road. Both Wood and Monaghan attended the wedding. Elijah Wood was photographed by press walking up Byres Road with Billy Boyd and his son Jack, and on the steps of the venue with the other actors.

Movie Glaswegians: Billy Boyd

billy boydBilly Boyd’s first onscreen appearance was in a 1996 episode of television’s Taggart – since then his acting journey has been one of the more remarkable ones to come out of Glasgow. He has continued to appear on the small screen, from a cameo in an early Still Game episode to an appearance in Casualty as recently as 2012, but it is within his film credits that you will find the most interesting range of roles.

Boyd is a familiar face in homegrown movies, including On A Clear Day, The Flying Scotsman and Stone Of Destiny, as well as the previously featured Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy. In Hollywood he has appeared in the sublime (Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World, alongside Russell Crowe) and the ridiculous (Seed Of Chucky, voicing the son of the murderous Child’s Play doll).

It is for his role as Peregrin ‘Pippin’ Took in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy however that he is best known – Pippin, one of the ‘Hobbits’, was a key character in the blockbuster saga whose instalments were released in 2001, 2002 and 2003. Boyd developed a firm bond with his fellow Hobbits played by Elijah Wood, Dominic Monaghan and Sean Astin during production of the movies, so much so that the former two attended his wedding at Oran Mor on Byres Road in 2010. Onscreen of course these genuine Hollywood friendships created great chemistry.

Billy Boyd was born in Glasgow on 28th August 1968 – the popular actor often appears younger than his years, perhaps partly due to his association with the role of Pippin, but maybe also due to his other job as frontman of the band Beecake. Boyd’s acting career was shaped in Glasgow, where he graduated from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. He lives in the city with his wife and son.

Post-trip catch up

Glasgow on Film has regretfully been neglecting blogging duties recently due to some time away with work, and then last week a holiday in the USA. However -hopefully back to business as usual now and among the many and varied subjects coming this way soon will be: Glasgow’s roles and contributions in Dear Frankie, Hallam Foe, Beautiful Creatures and Ratcatcher; visits to the city by Dwight Yoakam, Jean Reno and Charlton Heston; a look at the acting careers of David O’Hara and Billy Boyd.

Before we look at these matters in the coming days though it really is necessary to have a catch up on what has been a big week for film in Glasgow…

World Film Locations: Glasgow

world film locationsWhile across the Atlantic, GoF’s postlady had been with a delivery from Amazon – the brand new book World Film Locations: Glasgow, edited by Nicola Balkind. It is everything Glasgow on Film could ask for in a book – packed full of profiles of movies old and new that have been made in the city, as well as studying themes such as Glasgow’s passion for cinema and Glaswegian humour.

GoF is looking forward to sitting down and reading this book – the latest in a series which includes other cities such as London, Los Angeles and Dublin. If you are interested in film to the point of reading this blog, then you will almost certainly be familiar with Nicola Balkind’s work – she is a freelance web editor and film journalist who has contributed to a number of previous World Film Locations titles. Edited by Nicola and with contributions from more of Scotland’s best and brightest film commentators, this will be essential reading for all film enthusiasts – Glaswegian or otherwise. You can read more about the book and order it on Amazon and you can also visit Nicola’s website.

Glasgow Film Festival

empireThe ninth Glasgow Film Festival (www.glasgowfilm.org) kicked off on 14th February and lasts until 24th February. Alongside the premieres of new films and screenings of classics, plus visits from the likes of Eli Roth and Joss Whedon, are themed strands which this year include a retrospective of James Cagney, a celebration of Brazilian cinema and “Game Cats Go Miaow!” in which Burnistoun star Robert Florence looks at Scotland’s passion for gaming. It is fantastic to witness this festival grow in stature each year and when sitting in Heathrow last Saturday awaiting the flight to New York it was very pleasing to see this stylish advert in Empire magazine.

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas comes out on general release in UK cinemas this Friday, but had its first UK cinema screening at Glasgow Film Theatre last night as part of the Glasgow Film Festival. Glasgow on Film was lucky enough to be in the audience. A full analysis will follow on here at a later date when more people have had a chance to see the film first hand, but some top line points to make about it are:

– it’s really, really good – the THREE directors have lovingly crafted a truly impressive production.

– the acting is tremendous – you’ll see well known actors play in styles you’ve never seen them do before. While it would be tough to choose a stand out performance, Glasgow on Film if pushed would have to highlight Hugh Grant – not one of his multiple roles bear any resemblance to the foppish romantic comedy roles that he has previously been best known for.

– Glasgow looks brilliant in its guises as San Francisco, London and – something not widely reported previously – Cambridge.

– There are a number of nods to Scotland, including scenes filmed and actually set in Edinburgh, therefore coupled with the Glasgow filming connections these make Cloud Atlas likely to be a conversation piece across the land for weeks and months to come.

Well done to the festival organisers for securing this screening, which included a Q&A session with one of the film’s stars – James D’Arcy.

Stunt Double: Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy

ecstasyecstasy 2This 2011 film just scrapes on to Glasgow on Film, as the city’s presence is very fleeting. Yet again Glasgow is on stand-in duty for Edinburgh, however on this occasion the capital has more genuine screen time. What sets Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy apart from the likes of Trainspotting and the forthcoming Filth is that this movie is a Canadian production and therefore nearly all the interior scenes and some exterior scenes were filmed in Ontario.

Something that strikes the viewer about Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy is that the majority of the cast in this Scottish story are clearly not Scottish – natives lead actor Adam Sinclair and Billy Boyd aside, the rest of the cast appear to be Canadian. Sadly Canada’s strong Scottish roots do not guarantee a natural talent for Scottish accents here – the speech of major and minor characters seems to drift between Ireland and all regions of Scotland, with shades of Welsh comedian John Sparkes and the two “Foreign Guys” characters from Family Guy even creeping in at points. Failure for an actor to carry off a foreign accent is not an unforgivable thing (good grief, Sean Connery can hardly be praised for his efforts in sounding Russian, Spanish etc), but it does feel off-putting when nearly everyone in Edinburgh seems to talk so oddly. The film should not be written off on this basis however – particularly as some internet searching threw up a Daily Record interview with Billy Boyd in which he confesses his frustration with the lack of Scottish input to the feature, but states that director Rob Heydon had been trying his best for some years to make it a Canadian-UK co-production and that lack of funding from this side of the Atlantic led to him grudgingly taking so much of the production to Canada.

For their part, Adam Sinclair and Billy Boyd do the story justice – Sinclair in particular appears particularly comfortable as the central character Lloyd, a young man submerged in the world of chemical drugs and looking to break free from it. Canadian Kristin Kreuk, as Lloyd’s love interest Heather, is good too – shining perhaps as she is playing the part as a Canadian and not having to attempt a Lothian accent.

The film has a decent vibe about it – a good pace, although some sped up sequences feel like they have been borrowed from Trainspotting. Edinburgh looks pretty good throughout.

Glasgow Royal Infirmary appears in exterior footage for a hospital scene, while there is a very brief glimpse of Lloyd carrying out an exchange on the steps of what was Borders book store (soon to be a Zizzi restaurant) on Royal Exchange Square.