With Scotland under lockdown, we’re all looking for ways to pass our time – today we recommend 10 great films set in our country.
Over the past year, we’ve seen Netflix’s Outlaw King take prominence and gain a cult following, while Mary QUeen of Scots was another hit.
With TV series like Outlander, our country our country has been well and truly showcased on the big and small screens.
We’ve picked 10 great films set in Scotland – how many have you seen?
1. Braveheart (1995)
What this film lacks in accuracy, it more than makes up for in entertainment. This is the story of William Wallace, one of Scotland’s most bloodthirsty soldiers, and how he united his army to rise up against the oppression they faced from the King of England in the 13th century. Mel Gibson’s direction and portrayal of the hero won the film numerous awards, and with the battle scenes as glorious and gory as they were, it’s not hard to see why. While many of the battle scenes were actually filmed in Ireland , the unmistakable landscapes of Glencoe and Loch Leven give the film a more authentically Scottish feel. Although the hefty duration of three hours might throw you, don’t be put off – the lavish scenery, sprawling battle scenes and ongoing theme of Scottish patriotism is very satisfying to watch.
2. Trainspotting (1996)
On the other side of the scale, Danny Boyle’s cult classic perfectly encapsulates what you don’t see on the postcards and calendars. The film, based on the book by Irvine Welsh, follows the story of four young addicts and their struggles with poverty, relationships and getting clean. Emotional, eye-opening and even horrifying at times, it has faced criticism for being pro-drug due to its graphic nature. However, it represents a very real and difficult illness that many people struggle to understand, and doesn’t try to glamourise it. And of course, there’s the classic opening scene of Renton on the run from the police in Edinburgh with Iggy Pop wailing in the background. All of this, along with cracking direction and an even better cast, makes for a hard-hitting yet sensational film.
3. Brave (2012)
Pixar has long been world famous for its beautiful animation, and this might be the best example. Princess Merida, whose wild fire-coloured locks match her feisty personality, is fiercely independent, and so the thought of an arranged marriage is enough to make her sick. However, her wild ways get the better of her and she finds herself at war with her family, particularly her mother. While the storyline may not be the strongest one Pixar has ever thought up, the hazy animated scenes of early Celtic Scotland are worlds away from the harsh bright colours from the likes of Toy Story, and they make for very relaxing viewing. Kelly MacDonald, who voices the princess, brings an unprecedented level of sass to the role, and co-director Brenda Chapman did well to ensure that Pixar’s first female protagonist was a headstrong and admirable one.
4. The Angels’ Share (2012)
The widespread issue of youth unemployment and criminal activity in Edinburgh is explored in this film, directed by Ken Loach. A group of young offenders, introduced to each other in court where they are convicted for an assortment of crimes. Instead of the jail, they’re given community service, which is where new father Robbie meets whisky connoisseur Harry. The unlikely pair bond over the classic Scottish dram, but once it’s discovered that Robbie will do anything for the next drink, he’s eventually back to the life of crime. It’s important to note that none of the young offenders were played by professional actors, yet they portray the lives of young misfits so well. This film could also be considered a clever combination and revival of two classic pieces of Scottish cinema- Whisky Galore! (1949) and That Sinking Feeling (1980).
5. Gregory’s Girl (1980)
Bill Forsyth’s Gregory’s Girl is a funny and heart-warming coming-of-age tale about the simple life of outcast Gregory. Stuck in the limbo of secondary school, everything is turned upside down for him when attractive tomboy Dorothy (played by Dee Hepburn) joins his football team. This reversal of gender roles, paired with the boys in the film picking baking as a class, is very refreshing to see and was relatively groundbreaking and rare to see at the time of release. What makes this film so excellent is its simplicity, especially of its characters. Gregory, played by John Gordon Sinclair, meanders through life at his own pace, and the most complex hurdle he has to face is talking to the girl of his dreams (one at a time) and getting her to like him back. Although it may be almost four decades since its release, this film still resonates with teenagers today, especially when it comes to issues like awkward young love.
6. Shallow Grave (1994)
Before Trainspotting came Shallow Grave, which marked the directorial debut of Danny Boyle, working from an original screenplay by John Hodge. Key to the film’s success was the casting of relatively little-known actors Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston and Kerry Fox, playing a trio of flatmates looking for someone else to live in their spare room in Edinburgh. They opt for Keith Allan, who promptly dies, leaving a suitcase of money behind. The friends decide to cut up his body and bury it, keeping the money – and what follows is a fascinating look at the human condition as they all deal with it in different ways – and some not very pleasant people coming looking for the money. Future Doctor Who Eccleston assumes a Scots accent, in a film laced with dark humour
7. Local Hero (1983)
Another one of Bill Forsyth’s works, Local Hero is set in the fictional town of Ferness, but filmed in Pennan in the north-east. Oil executive Mac arrives in the tiny coastal town, sent in by the big boss in Texas because of its potential as an oil site. Used to the vastness of America, Mac at first feels claustrophobic- but upon introduction to Oldsen, played by a young Peter Capaldi, and an assortment of other colourful characters, he slowly but surely falls in love with the place. In the end, they do not end up striking the deal they had hoped for, but this isn’t a melancholy film. Mac’s eventual sense of belonging in this new place is bittersweet to watch, and is a feeling that surely resonates with a lot of viewers.
8. The Wicker Man (1973)
It wouldn’t be a list of great films set in Scotland without this classic horror/thriller. Smartly dressed police officer Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) is sent to the remote and mysterious land of Summerisle after a young girl goes missing, but the strange locals don’t seem to know if she ever existed. As far as horrors go, the beginning is not like the conventional horror movie sequences we’re all familiar with. This non-conformity remains throughout the film- there is a constant overhanging sense of dread even in the seemingly harmless scenes, and director Robin Hardy’s creation of an immersive atmosphere is one of the reasons why this classic thriller is still loved by film fans today. It is horror at its best- slow-burning and terrifying.
9. Highlander (1986)
Sean Connery gets the chance to play a character with a Scots accent (although he’s called Ramirez), with French actors Christopher Lambert playing swordsman Connor MacLeod, known as the Highlander, who lives in, unsurprisingly, the Scottish Highlands. Having been trained by Ramirez, MacLeod is one of group of immortal warriors who can be killed only by being beheaded. MacLeod lives on for several centuries, eventually settling in New York City and managing an antiques shop.
10. Under the Skin (2013)
In this chilling sci-fi tale, Scarlet Johansson plays an attractive yet predatory alien who entices Glaswegian men into her battered white van, only to take them home and transport them to an eternal plane of darkness. As fantastical as it sounds, a lot of the shots were filmed in a hidden-camera style unknown to the public featuring real people on the streets of Glasgow, giving it a frightening feeling of realism. This film was loosely based on the Michael Faber novel of the same name, which came out 14 years prior. Even though the elusive alien is a killer, the viewer is almost on her side- she’s constantly confused about this unfamiliar world she has been born into, but is quick to learn how the people operate and she eventually starts to pick up some human traits.