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.