The Flying Scotsman

The Flying Scotsman


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Cyclists are not like you and me. Call them fanatics and they smile. They are a breed apart, above and beyond the pampered comfort of four-wheeled softies.

Graeme Obree is/was a fanatic. He rode bikes; he built bikes; he sold bikes; he won races on bikes. He became famous. Have you heard of him?

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Douglas Mackinnon’s biopic is so unimaginative that Graeme comes across as a dull guy with one thing on his mind. The script pushes every button marked CHEER HERE and BOO HERE. Jonny Lee Miller’s performance is middle ground adequate, which is not what is required because Obree suffered depressions that affected his decisions and these are not explored like so much else, including his wife (Laura Fraser), who comes across as a characterless support system - big eyes, big smile, big heart.

This is the classic David and Goliath story of the little man from Scotland, who did it his way and triumphed. Bullied as a child (yes!), given a bike by caring dad (yes!), who is a policeman (yes!), marries a nurse (yes!), opens a bike shop that goes bust because he’s no good at biz (yes!), befriended by a widowed minister of the Kirk (Brian Cox) and his mate from the courier company (Billy Boyd), and he’s ready to realise his dream (YES!).

What is his dream? To beat the World Hour Record. What’s that? You bicycle solo round an indoor track for 60 minutes. Is this cinematically rewarding, or understandable? No.

Obree’s story is more impressive and interesting than this film makes out. His mental state is glanced at, yet left unexplained. His marriage appears solid and strong, when everyone knows that living with fanatics is never easy. And then there is the suicide attempt, which is so badly handled, it’s embarrassing.

The film is ordinary when it should be extraordinary. Sports movies have built-in adrenaline rushes, like mainlining on applause, but when you are dealing with a sport that only has the clock as its opponent, it’s hard to feel the blood vessels gorge with pride.

Clichés abound and the performances have little to contribute. The sole exception is Cox. The character he plays is deeply sentimental and wholly unlikely, yet he is such a good actor he makes you believe in him. Fraser and Boyd have been seriously let down by the scriptwriters. They have nothing to build on.

For a man who revolutionised the design of racing bikes and performed feats of superhuman endevour against every odd you can think of, including money (lack of), Obree deserves filmmakers of class and style. Instead, he is given journeymen.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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A Scottish cyclist's biopic.
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David Stanners ***1/2

Director: Douglas Mackinnon

Writer: John Brown, Declan Hughes, Simon Rose

Starring: Jonny Lee Miller, Sean Brown, Joseph Carney, Brian Cox, Crawford McInally-Keir, Jan Plazalski, Niall Macgregor, Julie Austin, Morag Calder, Billy Boyd, Laura Fraser, Jean Marie Coffey

Year: 2006

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK


EIFF 2006
Reel 2006

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