Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Flying Scotsman

The Flying Scotsman is based on the true story of Graeme Obree, a Scottish bicyclist who set speed records in the 1990’s with his unconventional riding style. But this movie is more than just an inspiring film about a bicycle deliveryman who builds a record breaking bicycle out of spare parts. This movie delves into the mental health issues that plagued Obree, and the affect that his illness had on Obree as well as the people around him. The real struggle in this movie wasn’t so much against the Cycling Federation as it was a struggle with deep emotional trauma. The movie is as much about exorcising demons as it is about exercising muscles. Obree’s exceptional physical condition belied the fragile mental condition explored delicately but poignantly in this film.

The Flying Scotsman was carefully crafted by writers John Brown, Simon Rose and Declan Hughes. The story balances the emotional turmoil Obree suffered from with the triumph of Obrees inventiveness and dedication to his sport. The story provides background on Obree’s emotions struggles before tracking his rise, fall and recovery in the sport of cycling. It is likely that the writers took some artistic license with the ingenuity that Obree displayed, drawing his inspiration from the unlikeliest of places. The characters in this movie are flawed in a way that makes them endearing. It is more than a story of inspiration and overcoming physical challenges to rise to the top of your sport. There are parallel plot lines dealing with the rule changes directed at Obree’s unconventional riding style as well as the mental health issues. The challenges are carefully scripted to augment the story without unnecessary distraction. The dialogue was rich and fresh with characters that interacted with credibility. The writing was exceptional.

The casting in The Flying Scotsman added to the credibility of the movie. I am not one to distinguish a Scottish accent from any other, but the accents sounded believable. It did not appear to me that any of the actors were putting on their accent…and at times I had trouble distinguishing what some of the actors were saying. The stronger accents required intense attention to even catch the flavor of the conversation. There were times when the accent and unfamiliar terminology had me completely lost. The credibility came at the expense of my thorough comprehension of the exchanges. Jonny Lee Miller was cast as Obree, providing intensity to the role that was often needed, but at times a bit overdone. Miller was plausible in the mental health parts…the parts I felt were overdone were the training bits where I didn’t fully buy the intensity of his concentration.

Sean Brown was the younger Graeme Obree, struggling against the schoolyard bullies. Brown had a limited role but portrayed Obree nicely. Obree’s long-suffering wife Anne was portrayed by Laura Fraser. Fraser had a limited role, but was superb in her restricted capacity. Obree’s Manager and good friend Malky McGovern was played by Billy Boyd. Malky becomes frustrated at times with Obree’s moodiness and stubbornness but remains a good friend. Boyd found the right balance to demonstrate the tenuous relationship between the two men. One of the key relationships in this film was between Obree and a minister named Douglas Baxter. The role of Baxter went to seasoned Scottish actor Brian Cox. Cox’ performance was exemplary. The chemistry between the two men was plausible adding dimension to both characters. The casting complimented a well constructed script.

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