Glasgow Film Festival: A warm, if one-sided introduction to a Scottish folk figurehead
Softly-spoken, open-shirted and sporting a grinning mouthful of teeth like cracked headstones, Hamish Henderson cuts an eccentric and intriguing figure on-screen. The poet, soldier, songwriter and archivist, who died in 2002, is credited with spearheading Scotland’s folk revival in the mid 20th century, journeying extensively throughout the country’s rural regions and often living in the travelling communities where oral song and storytelling traditions remained strong.
Other landmark moments in his life include: his celebrated record in WWII, where his left-wing, anti-fascist beliefs won out over his pacifist ideals; the publication of his collection of war poems, Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica, which won the Somerset Maugham Award; a very public tussle with Scots poetry figurehead Hugh MacDiarmid over folk’s place in Scottish culture; the founding of the populist Edinburgh People’s Ceilidh in opposition to the more high-brow Edinburgh Festival; and sustained battles with the establishment, including a frosty relationship with the BBC and his refusal of an OBE in response to Thatcher’s nuclear weapons policy.
It’s a lot for director Robbie Fraser to cram into 75-minutes, so he focuses on celebrating Henderson’s achievements rather than exploring his private life; there’s lots of time dedicated to his days in WWII and his work as a folk archivist, with only fleeting references made to his bisexuality and fondness for alcohol (Henderson was a regular fixture at Edinburgh’s Sandy Bell’s pub for the latter half of his life). The film makes good use of both archival footage and interviews with his family, friends and colleagues – the end result is a fond but decidedly one-sided portrait. Still, it’s a warm introduction to a man who deserves to be remembered among Scotland’s folk fraternity – and, needless to say, trad fans will find plenty to enjoy in the soundtrack, with numerous original recordings accompanying composer Jim Sutherland’s score.
Screening on Tue 23 and Wed 24 Feb as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2016. General release TBC.