Reviewed by: Donald Munro

"Hamish provides an interesting and enlightening insight into a culturally important man."

Hamish Henderson (1919–2002) was a Scottish poet, song writer and archivist of Scotland's oral traditions. He was also a Communist and a prominent Anti-Apartheid campaigner. Henderson was a highly influential figure in the popularisation and televisation of folk music. He was one of those responsible for Edinburgh People's Festival, the precursor to the Edinburgh Fringe. His best known works are the collection of war poems Elegies For The Dead In Cyrenaica, which received the Somerset Maugham Award, and The Freedom Come-All-Ye, which is considered by many to be Scotland's alternative national anthem (it should be noted that Scotland doesn't actually have a national anthem so there is something delightfully perverse about it having a recognised alternative).

The first half hour of Hamish is dry and a little boring. It mostly concerns itself with historical facts about the poet: where he was born; where he lived; where he was schooled. You learn a little about his less ordinary military carrier as a captain during World War II. It is made up of archive footage and interviews with subjects set against a white background, a blank page. The film hits its stride when it focuses of Henderson's poetry and politics, on his music. These things are documented with more passion and energy than the simple historical facts, places and names.

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As the film progresses it reaches back into the first half hour and pulls out strands from which it weaves a picture of a complex, inspiring man. The white backgrounds become filled with text, poetry and lyrics. Hamish paints Henderson as a man of reconciled contradictions. As a pacifist he fought against Nazism in World War II, as a broadcaster he was able to put Scottish folk music on the BBC schedules while being blacklisted by that organisation for his political views, both communist and nationalist. The latter two thirds of the film are engaging and enjoyable and convey a real sense of emotion.

Hamish provides an interesting and enlightening insight into a culturally important man. A man who has, for political reasons, been neglected by the mainstream media. From his music and poetry, to his early stance on Apartheid and Scottish home rule, Henderson is a man whose cultural and political significance shouldn't be ignored.

Reviewed on: 25 Feb 2016
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A documentary portrait of Hamish Henderson, poet, soldier, intellectual, activist, songwriter and leading force in the revival of Scottish folk music.

Director: Robbie Fraser

Writer: Kevin MacNeil

Year: 2016

Runtime: 75 minutes

Country: UK


Glasgow 2016

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