From Brigadoon to Trainspotting: Brian Pendreigh traces the development of Scottish Film over the last century

Hoots mon, laddie: classic kitsch from Brigadoon with Gene Kelly

Back in the 1950s the Hollywood producer Arthur Freed came to Scotland to look for locations for Brigadoon, a spectacular musical about a Scottish village that emerges from the mists for just one day in every 100 years.

A local film critic took him on a tour of some of Scotland's most atmospheric and picturesque towns and villages. Scotland has a long tradition of providing stories and locations for film-makers from Hollywood and England, but sadly on this occasion Freed concluded there was nowhere in Scotland that looked quite Scottish enough for his needs. He went back to Hollywood, created Scotland in the studio and filled it with Americans in tartan.

The ghosts of Brigadoon (1954) and Freed's mythical version of Scotland have haunted the nation ever since. Four decades later Shallow Grave finally emerged out of the mists of the Scottish film industry, a deliciously dark and modern comedy-thriller, about three flatmates who find a suitcase full of money and resort to murder to keep it.

With Shallow Grave (1994), Scotland not only threw off the kilt and the cobwebs of history, but laid the foundations of a native film industry that would in a few short years produce such talents as Peter Mullan and Lynne Ramsay, making films with a distinctively Scottish perspective. During the Eighties there were years in which no feature films were made in Scotland. Last year there were a record 15, and half involved Scottish production companies.

For a century cinema has borrowed Scottish scenery and plundered Scottish history, and then made up the rest. Braveheart (1995) employed an international image of kilted warriors and heathery glens that was already established when Mary Pickford produced and starred in Pride of the Clan in 1917, ten years before the arrival of the "talkies".

By 1913 there had been at least three versions of Rob Roy, one of which shot in Scotland, a rare instance of a "story film" made by a Scottish production company in the first half of the century. It is perhaps appropriate Rob Roy should be the subject of a 1995 film produced, written and directed by Scots, just as the Scottish film industry was beginning to get going - though they needed United Artists's dollars and cast Irishman Liam Neeson as Rob Roy. Some critics would argue the opposite of course - that Rob Roy was an ironic choice for Scottish film-makers at a time when their peers were discovering new and very different Scottish stories and characters.

The tartanisation continues >>

Find an iofilm review