Rob Roy

Rob Roy

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Rob MacGregor strides through the laird's ornamental garden, like Gulliver amongst the Lilliputians, with the Marquis of Montrose (John Hurt), his factor Killearn (Brian Cox) and the effete swordslinger Cunningham (Tim Roth). It would be farcical if these little men did not hold sway over MacGregor's fate.

Liam Neeson carries his height with grace. What he gains in stature, he loses in speech. The ruling classes have all the best lines. Montrose is portrayed as an acerbic wit, ruthless with money and tempered by the English court's fashion for foppery. Cunningham, his hired sword, beds a serving wench - "You think I'm a gentleman because I have linen and can manage a lisp." He's an impoverished aristo, who considers rape an afternoon's sport and murder a pleasurable pastime.

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Roth is hardly the ideal choice for such a fearsome enemy, uncomfortably camp besides Cox's superb Killearn, Andrew Kerr's noble Argyll and Jessica Lange's indomitable Mrs MacGregor. If Neeson wasn't such a strong, vulnerable actor, with an inner sense of his own limitations, the dandy would have danced away with the movie.

As it is, Roth's affectation becomes a victim of Neeson's honesty. Rob borrows a thousand pounds from Montrose to buy cows. The money is stolen. Montrose demands retribution, sending Cunningham and the redcoats in pursuit, as Rob heads for the hills.

This could easily have been a romp - Rob Roy: Prince Of Reivers - but is saved by Alan Sharp's bawdy, bramble-scratched script and fine acting from a multinational cast. Michael Caton-Jones, the Scots-born director, is not afraid of tackling a national hero in the Stevenson tradition. Energy, enjoyment and a refusal to be bothered by purist sensibilities make this a rollocking good adventure.

He avoids beauty spots in favour of untrodden glens. No one seems to be wearing enough clothes - the weather is filthy in Scotland - and there isn't a midge in sight. At times, the editing appears crude, not that it affects the fierceness of these wild places. The final scene is breathtakingly banal, which, in anyone else's hands, would have been pastiche.

Lange gives the film class, Neeson gives it passion, Roth gives it flair, Cox gives it body. After a shaky start, in which David Hayman does an impersonation of a caveman and folk band Capercaillie washes the soundtrack in mulled Gaelic balladry, Sharp unsheathes his language and Caton-Jones grasps the nettle. Despite soapbox Rob ("All men with honour are kings, but not all kings have honour") and cutthroat cynicism from Cunningham ("Love is a dunghill and I am but a cock that climbs upon it to crow"), this is exhilarating entertainment.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Adventure yarn about people's hero who robs from the rich to help the poor.
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Director: Michael Caton Jones

Writer: Alan Sharp

Starring: Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange, John Hurt, Tim Roth, Eric Stoltz, Andrew Keir, Brian Cox, Brian McCardie, Gilbert Martin, Vicki Masson, Gilly Gilchrist

Year: 1995

Runtime: 139 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

Festivals:

Dunoon 2013

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