Movie Review: The Flying Scotsman
FILM REVIEW: THE FLYING SCOTSMAN
By Michael Wilmington
Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
"The Flying Scotsman" is a sports bio movie that I really enjoyed about a sport and sports hero I barely knew existed: the World Hour Record competition for bicyclists and its gutsy, tormented and most unusual champion, Graeme Obree.
Obree is played by Jonny Lee Miller (one of the Edinburgh gang in "Trainspotting") with the kind of stoic grace we like to see in athlete. The title comes from Obree's nickname and autobiography, and he's a pretty remarkable figure: a bike shop owner and amateur cyclist from humble origins in Ayrshire, Scotland, who revolutionized the sport but paid a heavy price for it.
Obree's story is not only inspiring, it's infuriating. According to the facts dramatized here and recounted in the movie's press book, Obree was a shy, reclusive guy obsessed with bikes and biking, who also suffered from suicidal depression. Despite his emotional problems, and despite the fact that he lacked the prominent sponsorship of the champions of his sport, Obree built and designed his own bike (using, among other things, household materials such as washing machine blades), and devised a new, very aerodynamic cycling position. In 1993 Obree used both to break the hour record, an effort in which a cyclist tries to ride as far and as fast as he can, in one hour.
Accompanying him were his greatest emotional and professional supports: his best friend and manager, Malky (a fictitious composite played by Billy Boyd), and his wife, Anne (Laura Fraser). On his first try at the lonely, painful ordeal, Obree fell short. But he rode again the very next day and smashed the record. That began his quest for more glory and his battle with the bicycle racing establishment.
And now we get to the villains, the members of the World Cycling Federation Board, embodied here by Ernst Hagemann, a Bavarian snob played by that quintessential `80s movie villain Steven Berkoff ("Beverly Hills Cop," "Rambo"). Hagemann and his fellow traditionalists don't like Obree, his style, his stance, his bike or his attitude. And though the public loves underdogs and independence, the (fictional) World Cycling Federation members, at least in this movie, disallow Obree's bikes and stances.
Soon, Obree is out of the sport and attempts an almost successful suicide. (We see him on the verge of hanging himself in the movie's first scene; a long flashback follows.) But Obree has help. Besides Anne and Malky, there's Brian Cox as Doug Baxter, a friendly minister with a dwindling parish, who supports him early on and offers sage advice. And soon, the racer is back again.
That "Scotsman" stirs us is due to the emotional credit that the actors - especially Miller, Cox and the stunner Fraser - build up in this story, as well as the drama and local color that director Douglas Mackinnon and his writers (John Brown, Declan Hughes and Simon Rose) put into the re-creation of the events.
Mackinnon, a TV star director making his theatrical feature debut here, has a flair for pace, color and performances. The writing is more heartfelt than usual for a movie like this; one of the writers, Rose, has been working on the project for 12 years. "The Flying Scotsman," like many movie bios, invents some characters and plays with the truth, though not too much. But the movie, which endured a few bumps and trials of its own on its path to the screen, tells a tale both fast and moving. And when Miller as Obree takes his whirls around the track, it gets your heart pumping and your blood up.
"The Flying Scotsman"
Directed by Douglas Mackinnon; screenplay by John Brown, Declan Hughes and Simon Rose; photographed by Gavin Finney; edited by Colin Monie; music by Martin Phipps; production design by Mike Gunn; produced by Peter Broughan, Peter Gallagher and Sara Giles. A Metro Goldwyn Mayer release. Running time: 1:36. MPAA rating: PG-13 (some mature thematic elements and strong language).
Graeme Obree - Jonny Lee Miller
Anne Obree - Laura Fraser
Malky - Billy Boyd
Douglas Baxter - Brian Cox
Ernst Hagemann - Steven Berkoff
Adult gang leader - Niall Fulton