Eye For Film >> Movies >> Restless Natives (1985) Film Review
Made in a sweet spot of Scottish filmmaking that had seen Bill Forsyth's Gregory's Girl achieve fame five years earlier and his Local Hero win fans the year before, this tale of a pair of hapless buddies-turned-tourist-coach highwaymen has a rough-edged comic charm, even if it isn't quite in the same league.
At the heart of Michael Hoffman's film - written by Ninian Dunnett for a Lloyds Bank screenwriting competition, which he won - are Vincent Friell and Joe Mullaney, who offer a winning chemistry and affable appeal. They play Will and Ronnie likely lads from an Edinburgh scheme housing estate who are stuck in the dead end jobs of park sweeper and joke shop clerk - Thatcher's Britain is in evidence here, with Ninnian literally giving her the boot at one point, although the politics are kept in the background. Will still lives at home, a crowded space he shares with his mum (Ann Scott-Jones), dad (Bernard Hill, grappling with a Scots accent) and sister Isla (Rachel Boyd), while Ronnie has the freedom of a bedsit but is, essentially, all alone in the world save for his best mate.
The perfect backdrop then to hatch a scheme to liberate busloads of foreign tourists from their cash and jewellery, brandishing a toy gun and a blaster filled with a toxic mix of joke-shop powders before making off on a motorbike. After highlighting their general ineptitude by a first attempt to hold up a car (occupied by no lesser luminaries than Whistle Down The Wind director Bryan Forbes and his real-life wife Nanette Newman), the lads start to have a spot of success, their wolf and clown mask disguises and genial approach proving unexpectedly endearing to tourists. Still, one of their US marks, CIA agent Bender (US character actor regular Ned Beatty) becomes determined to help the local plod to catch them, meanwhile Will begins to take a shine to bus tour guide Margot (Teri Lally).
The first half an hour of this rattles along with plenty of good humour, injected with further energy by the Big Country soundtrack, which is as dyed in the wool Scottish as a fine Highland kilt. Hoffman also makes the most of Scotland's urban and rural spaces, from graffiti filled travelators and a cemetery with tower blocks looming in the background (Glasgow's Necropolis standing in for Edinburgh's Wester Hailes) to the then-decay of Newhaven's harbour (outrageously referred to as Leith's harbour on the commentary track), the lush and rainy Highlands and Edinburgh's Princes Street.
Things become more confused when Ronnie falls in with some bad guys, led by Mel Smith's Pyle. Although this fuels the tension in Ronnie's bromance-leaning relationship with Will, which is needed to drive the plot, it's unevenly handled, as though more explanation got lost on the cutting room floor, plus there's a brief cartoonish Japanese subplot that hasn't aged well.
But if the plot is a bit scrappy, the humour is consistently strong, with Hoffman using plenty of visual gags, including several incidents with sheep and a lovely sequence involving a little girl (Laura Smith), systematically refusing bigger and bigger bribes to grass on her mates. Although this fresh re-release of the film on Blu-ray will no doubt hold most appeal for those who fell in love with it first time around, it has enough good natured energy to attract new fans.Reviewed on: 18 Mar 2021