Warning: This piece contains super mild spoilers about Avengers: Infinity War, so if you’re really sensitive about this stuff, please don’t read.
We all knew there was going to be an Edinburgh moment in Avengers: Infinity War. There had been much reporting on the film making its way to our glorious capital, with autograph hunters hanging around outside the Balmoral Hotel and the Waverley train station becoming a set for a few weeks. Scotland doesn’t tend to get the big movies like this. Sure, you can see some big set-piece being filmed in the Highlands, or thrifty directors dressing Glasgow up to look like a metropolitan American city, but seldom is the city itself a distinguishable presence in an international production. Like Canada, Scotland doesn’t always get to play itself. A lot of us imagined that, whatever the scene was, our Infinity War moment would be fleeting and decidedly un-Scottish.
The moment is indeed a quick one, but for every Scot watching, I guarantee that the payoff was worth it.
Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) are shown to be hiding out together in Edinburgh, enjoying a brief period of solitude from the concerns of the Avengers. Their love nest seems to be on Cockburn Street (shut up, it’s pronounced Co-burn, and nobody ever mentions the name of it) and, in a touch of Hollywood magic, the streets are deserted. The pair go for a late-night stroll and see a news report on a TV inside a take-away. Then, as expected, a fight breaks out, which ends up mostly taking place on St Giles Cathedral and the Waverley Station.
The scene is over in about ten minutes, maybe less, and I doubt it’s anyone’s favourite moment in the film. You could probably move it to any other city in the world and nothing would change. Edinburgh’s just a city for lovers (and one that almost certainly offered a solid tax incentive for the studio). Still, as quick as it was, it felt unique in the history of on-screen Scotland. Our city was universal yet inimitably itself, if only for one brief joke.
In the window of that take-away where they watch the breaking news, there is a sign that says ‘We will deep fry your kebabs’. My cinema erupted into sniggers of laughter at that moment. Perhaps other people spotted it and laughed, but the impact would have been lessened. This felt like a moment just for us, the kind of gag that an over-eager set dresser would sneak in. It felt like something that only an actual Scot would come up with. I’m reasonably familiar with the take-aways of Edinburgh, having once been a student there (fact: the take-away shown in the film doesn’t exist - that’s actually a jewellery shop), and I can tell you that deep fried kebabs are probably a bit too far even for us. That’s saying something: We’re the nation of deep fried Mars Bars, after all! Yet the moment felt accurate, like something that you could only find in Scotland, something only ever eaten by curious tourists and the Saturday night drunks well beyond redemption. The only way it could have been more Scottish is if it came with a free can of Irn Bru - the full fat stuff, you understand.
That moment is super Scottish, but the rest of the scene? Not so much. If you know Edinburgh well, know can tell where Wanda and Vision are. You can glean a lot about the flat they seem to be living in and how much it probably cost (spoiler alert: a lot). It suggests images of the pair exploring the nearby Royal Mile, checking out the Castle and maybe lounging around Princes Street Gardens. There’s a nice Hungarian restaurant about half an hour from Cockburn Street, which I imagine would offer the closest thing to Sokovian cuisine for Wanda, so maybe they eat there. You watch the fight on the roof of St Giles and glory in how much that would have pissed off John Knox. These details weren’t pressing matters for the film-makers, and for most Scots watching, I doubt they will be either, but it’s a fascinating shade to on-screen Scotland we don’t get: This is a story where the Scottishness of it all has nothing to do with it, and that’s kind of new for us.
This isn’t a Hollywood movie where Scotland serves as a big metaphor for old-timey ways or Highland nobility. There’s no tartan, no kilts, no bagpipes, and no haggis (although I bet that place would deep fry it for you if you asked). There’s no scene where Vision and Wanda encounter a drunken ginger guy with an incomprehensible accent. Indeed, there are no Scots anywhere, which is either a good or bad thing, depending on your view. Edinburgh is merely window dressing for a bigger picture. Our capital gets to be a set, and not a symbol. It’s a city, not a marker of identity.
Joe Russo, one of the film’s directors, talked up Scotland’s potential as a hub for big-budget film-making, celebrating the ‘incredible topography which is easily accessible and accessible quickly, which is very important for film crews.’ He also said that ‘if some sound stages are built here in the proper place and managed properly, that I think Scotland could attract a Star Wars film or a Marvel movie very easily for the duration of their shoot.’ Whether the Scottish government listens to this obvious plea is a different matter. We’ve been waiting on our planned sound stages for quite some time now, and there’s only so long we can coast on that sweet sweet Outlander money.
Nobody is going to rank Avengers: Infinity War as one of the great Scottish movies, but our national cameo may inspire the right people to take us seriously as a cultural hub for cinema, both nationally and internationally. If nothing else, I hope someone starts offering deep friend kebabs. I’d give it a go. It couldn’t be any worse than a deep fried Milky Way.
I bet Thor would love it.
(Head image of Avengers: Infinity War filming on the Royal Miles courtesy of Getty Images)