Unexpectedly we’re all living through extraordinary, uncertain and difficult times.
Edinburgh’s streets which would usually be bustling and busy with Easter visitors to the city right now, are instead quiet and deserted. It’s the same across Scotland and in many countries throughout the world, as we all learn to live for the time-being in a new way with social distancing and lockdown.
So at a time when Scottish visits and tours have been cancelled and we’re advised to stay inside as much as possible and avoid travelling, we can all at least cheer ourselves up indoors with some few reminders of why we love Scotland and what makes it unique.
With this in mind here are my choice of Scottish films to watch, some have a real feel-good factor – others have more of a historical flavour. If you’ve not seen them before then now’s your chance to enjoy an entertaining few hours and a virtual escape to Scotland.
- Local Hero – a warm-hearted storyline, good fun and beautiful Scottish scenery. An absolute classic from the 1980s and a firm favourite. The real village, which was used for filming, is actually located on the east coast whilst the fictitious villages’ beautiful beach is in reality on the west coast of Scotland. That’s the magic of film!
- Sunshine on Leith – the storyline of this film is based around the music from the Proclaimer’s album of the same name. Great fun for Edinburgh locals or for those who have visited the city, to see if they can recognise where each film location is in Edinburgh – even more entertaining when you realise they turn a corner in a scene in the film and end up in a location that in reality is some distance away in the city!
- Brave – a Disney Pixar animation following the adventures of feisty Merida, a clan chief’s daughter and one for the kids and all the family. It’s a great way to enjoy authentic Scottish accents too from the cast and the animated scenes were well researched in advance so that places in Scotland feature in the film, or are recognisably melded together. The song ‘Touch The Sky’ is sung by Julie Fowlis, a well-known Scottish Gaelic singer. Look out for the chess pieces they play with in the film, they really exist and can be found in the National Museum of Scotland. (Take a virtual tour of the museum to find them or visit their website)
- The Illusionist – this is a lesser-known but absolutely charming and utterly delightful and painstakingly hand-drawn animation. It features real places in Scotland including Edinburgh along with the lovely Scottish landscape. The story is gentle and there’s very little in the way of speech in the film at all. Based on a French script by Jacques Tati it was adapted for a Scottish setting and is a definite favourite – and not just because my cousin was one of the animators who worked on the film!
- The Angel’s Share – I couldn’t miss this film out from my list as my grandfather was a whisky still maker for many Scottish whisky distilleries. This film takes its name from the portion of whisky that is lost to evaporation as the whisky matures in oak barrels. Despite having a bit of a violent start, this film is full of Scottish humour and is a feel-good story of redemption. Along the way you’ll find out more about the whisky-making process and the whisky business. In fact the Scottish whisky expert in the film, who also leads the auction, really is one of Scotland’s leading whisky experts, Charles MacLean! The main distillery they used in the film is near where my family comes from and so it’s fun to see familiar local faces used as extras too.
- Outlaw King – do you want to find out more about Scottish history? This film is fairly historically accurate about Robert the Bruce, who was crowned King Robert I of Scots in 1306 and it follows his struggle to finally successfully gain independence from England through the Wars of Independence. Anyone who knows Edinburgh might also recognise its ‘other’ castle used as a backdrop in this film – Craigmillar Castle.
- Mary Queen of Scots – another historical film and although in the film Queen Elizabeth I of England and Mary Queen of Scots meet, in reality they never did. In real life in Edinburgh Mary lived at the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Edinburgh Castle where her son was born, the future King James VI of Scotland who later became James I of England. So there is plenty to see that’s connected with her in Edinburgh.
- Outlander TV Series – not a film but following the popularity of the books, the TV series has become a worldwide hit. Series 5 is currently showing so you have plenty of earlier series to catch up on. The storyline follows the main characters Claire a nurse during World War II who afterwards travels back in time to the 18th century and finds herself in the Highlands of Scotland and before you know it is forced into marrying a rather gorgeous Highlander called Jamie. A real historical rip-roaring and bodice-ripping adventure in the years up to the Battle of Culloden and the years following it.
My next few film recommendations are all ‘golden oldies’ and all are more than a little corny, but charming and amusing with a strong sense of Scotland.
- Whisky Galore – made in 1949 but there’s an updated version too. This gentle comedy is loosely based on the true story of a ship, SS Politician, which ran aground off one of the Western Isles during the Second World War carrying a large cargo of bottled whisky. The islanders helped themselves to the bounty from the reef but were then up against the authorities who demanded the bottles of whisky be returned. The film shows the ingenuous lengths to which the islanders went to hide the whisky and the trouble it caused. In real life to this day, there are still some of the precious original bottles of whisky nicknamed ‘Polly’ by local islanders to be found.
- Geordie – (1955) – this is another gentle, fun and definitely corny classic that follows the story of a puny Highland lad who is bullied and so embarks on a bodybuilding course and eventually grows up to become an Olympic hammer-thrower. There’s a love story and homesickness along the way too. Terrific scenery and a good-looking Scot in a kilt – what’s not to like?!
I couldn’t list classic old films and not mention the most famous and possibly corniest of them all
- Brigadoon – a musical which is simply old-fashioned Hollywood entertainment. Especially entertaining for Scots as we smile and wince at the mangled attempts of Hollywood actors trying to speak with Scottish accents.
Next in our indoor Scottish entertainment medley we have virtual tours – a wonderful immersive experience, it’s the next best thing to actually being there in person – and even better as you get to tour without any crowds!
One of Scotland’s most visited free attractions is the superb National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. It’s incredibly popular with visitors and locals alike and for a very good reason. It’s absolutely jam-packed with over 20,000 objects in interesting galleries ranging through all periods of history, to science and technology of the past and the future, natural history, Egyptian exhibits, fashion, design, glass & chinaware and much more. You’ll find the wonderful Kingdom of the Scots, a personal favourite, with its precious historic artefacts. I have often been asked to take tours here and its such a pleasure navigating its nooks and crannies, to find some of its hidden treasures.
Remember to look out for the Lewis Chessmen that featured in the film ‘Brave’.
If you want to find out about any of the artefacts or collections in the museum that you see on the tour then check out https://www.nms.ac.uk
The Palace of Holyroodhouse as it stands today has been a Royal residence for over 500 years and still remains a working Royal Palace to this day. This is where the Queen traditionally comes to stay at the beginning of July to carry out Royal engagements. Throughout its history the palace has had many famous occupants including Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie. The Mary Queen of Scots’ apartment rooms are not featured on this virtual tour, but you’ll see the great stair and 3 State Apartment rooms dating from the 1670 period. https://www.royal.uk/virtual-tours-palace-holyroodhouse
To find out more about Mary Queen of Scots and her time at the palace you can take the online trail on the website to discover more including murder at the palace! https://www.rct.uk/visit/palace-of-holyroodhouse
Finally if you want to curl up and read a book that draws you into a tale from Scotland then here are a few suggestions:
- Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson – a terrific read and an absolute classic tale of historical fiction written as a children’s book involving Jacobites, an unscrupulous uncle in league with a ship’s captain to kidnap his nephew and the following adventure in the Scottish Highlands. Robert Louis Stevenson was brought up in Edinburgh and this story is still so famous and popular that a statue of the two main characters, David Balfour and Alan Breck, was erected in 2004 and unveiled by Sean Connery.
- Outlander – the series of books by Diana Gabaldon. I’ve already mentioned the TV series but this is based on the books and over the years long before it was on TV I had many clients asking to have personal Outlander tours organised to take them around the places mentioned in the books. This started me reading them so I could research the locations and suddenly I was as hooked as they were. The books are long, but the historical details are well researched and they are totally absorbing. These books will keep you occupied for a very long time and you might even learn a few words of Gaelic along the way or the historical use of local plants for medical remedies too. (Hmm…please don’t try these at home!)
- The History of Scotland by Neil Oliver – not fiction but a very readable book if you want to know about Scottish history.
- Angus the Tartan Partan– Sometimes you have to go back and reread your own childhood favourites. This one is mine, although it’s unlikely anyone will have heard of this charming story by Janet Caird as it has long since been out of print, but you may find it in a second-hand book shop. A partan in Scots is a crab, and this story is all about Angus, a crab who is rather full of himself because of his eye-catching tartan shell, but how he gets lost and eventually finds his way home, along with a good dose of humility about his good looks. Janet Caird was my mother’s school teacher and although the book was printed before I was born, it was a family favourite when I was young.
By the time you have worked your way through this long list, we might all be able to travel again and enjoy the outdoors – from atmospheric Edinburgh closes (alleys) to spectacular Scottish scenery or the cultural and historic delights when walking through museums, castles, galleries and palaces. Scotland and Edinburgh will still be out there waiting for us….