The Flying Scotsman
Riding your bike fast doesn’t make you a hero, but Graeme Obree’s well-documented battles with the external and internal pressures of professional cycling put him firmly in the Lance Armstrong class. As depicted in Douglas Mackinnon’s long-delayed biopic, Obree’s drive and invention (he built his bike from washing machine parts and invented his own riding position) led to his winning the right to hold a world record, but also left him fighting tough battles against sporting bureaucracy and depression.
Obree’s story is crudely simplified in The Flying Scotsman into an old-fashioned triumph against-the-odds tale. Sports film cliché is piled on top of sports film cliché as Obree builds up momentum in the saddle (while never quite getting out of second gear). Something akin to staging Rocky as an egg and spoon race, this is an ill-fated idea which might have had more chance of finding an audience if it had hit the screen when producer Peter Broughan intended, in the wake of 1997’s The Full Monty. But as Scottish Screen’s ‘community-rally-round-eccentric-individual-with-a-dream’ template has been repeatedly flogged to death by box-office non-events like A Shot At Glory and On A Clear Day, Broughan’s highly touted project looks like it may end up stalling at the starter flag.
That said, The Flying Scotsman has plenty to recommend it, not least Jonny Lee Miller’s muted, understated performance as the cyclist himself. But there’s not enough spirit or substance in the back-stories to make Laura Fraser’s worried wife, Brian Cox’s grizzled mentor and Billy Boyd’s cheeky pal anything more than stock characters. Obree’s real life conflict with authority is largely posted missing, jettisoned in favour of picturesque cycling montages and cod-psychology flashbacks that spuriously suggest that Obree’s personal difficulties can be attributed to bullying.
After recently emerging from US cinemas with a desperate total box office taking of around £100,000, The Flying Scotsman may well be remembered as the last gasping breath of lottery dependent Scottish cinema, a well-intentioned but ultimately fusty venture that finally drags itself over the finish line a day late and a dollar short. (Eddie Harrison)
Selected release from Fri 29 Jun.