England’s neighbor to the north, Scotland has a rich and varied culture that is ripe for film settings. With rural rolling hills filled with lakes and fog, the natural beauty of the area lends itself to many mysterious myths and legends. From the Loch Ness Monster to kilts and bagpipes, much of Scotland is usually defined by these simple tropes. Most films don’t use Scotland in its modern context, mainly because a tartan-clothed land filled with broadswords and caber tosses is much more interesting thematically (despite the prevalence of haggis as well). Of course, with its rural tendencies and outdoor eye-candy, even the modern Scottish films manage to hearken back to the country’s humble origins. This week’s two films highlight the picturesque setting of Scotland in both a live-action and animated format.
Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours
Simply put, the eponymous Scottish Highlanders are simply people who live in the Highlands of Scotland. This northern area of the country is filled with much of Scotland’s mountains and lakes (including Loch Ness) and is almost in direct opposition to the more populated Lowlands. In the Lowlands, you’re likely to find drug addicts in Edinburgh (like in Trainspotting (1996)), whereas in the Highlands, you’re likely to find the country estate of a famous MI-6 agent (like in Skyfall (2012)). What’s somewhat ironic about the best-known film about the Highlands, Highlander (1986) is that, despite its modern setting, half of the film takes place in mediaeval times. It is in these mediaeval times that we see the origins of the titular Highlander and learn of his eternal struggle that has culminated in the events that unfold in New York City.
Minding his own business one evening, Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) is attacked by a man who claims to be immortal. Fortunately, MacLeod is also immortal and is able to subdue his assailant by decapitating him. This death results in Connor receiving the stored energy of the formerly immortal man. While the police manage to arrest him, they can’t prove he did anything wrong and proceed to release him. However, Brenda Wyatt (Roxanne Hart) notices that the weapons used in this scuffle are centuries old and takes it upon herself to get close to MacLeod (who is currently using the pseudonym Russell Nash). She eventually learns that this struggle between immortals has been happening for centuries, back when Connor lived as a Highlander. Now only he and The Kurgan (Clancy Brown) remain: both vying for the power to become mortal.
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours
For many of the same reasons people enjoy Renaissance Festivals, feudal Scotland is a popular setting for some award-winning films. Not only is one of William Shakespeare’s best plays, Macbeth, set in Scotland, but the Best Picture-winning Braveheart (1995) even goes so far as to tell the tale of the Scottish rebel and hero, William Wallace. Portrayed by Mel Gibson, Wallace takes a stand against the injustice that has befallen his country at the hands of English royalty. More than a decade later, Pixar would take the essence of this rebellion and implant it within a teenaged girl named Merida. Much like William Wallace, Merida is sick and tired of the status quo, and is not going to accept her fate without a fight. Winning the Best Animated Picture Oscar for 2012, Brave shows us that even a girl from Scotland can be a Disney Princess.
Merida Dunbroch (Kelly Macdonald) is not your average princess. Encouraged by her father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), with the gift of a bow and arrows, Merida embraces her tomboyish tendency as she grows toward womanhood. Partly due to the independence the weapon has given her, she resists the chiding of her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), who wants Merida to act like a proper lady. Unfortunately, her parents remain united in marrying her off to the winner of the Highland Games. By using a loophole, she claims her own hand in marriage, which upsets her mother. In a twist of fate propelled by the will-o’-the-wisp, Merida curses her mother and now has to proceed to undo the curse while also attempting to hold the various clans together, all of whom are on the cusp of an all-consuming war.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Scottish settings