It’s not often the torrid worlds of Film Twitter and Scottish politics find themselves tangled together, but these are strange times, alas.
Angus Macfadyen may be familiar to many of you for his role in the Saw franchise, or his work in the cast of Turn: Washington’s Spies. He’s a strong working actor and one of the more prominent examples of a Scottish star who has managed to find work consistently in America (we tend to be pretty proud of those ones). But his most prominent role is probably still his turn as Robert the Bruce in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. Remember, that film was a huge deal, making back over three times its budget and winning Best Picture at the Oscars. Nowadays, Braveheart is viewed a bit more skeptically, in large part because Mel Gibson is Mel Gibson, but in my neck of the woods, it remains a reasonably popular film. Macfadyen has wanted to make a sequel of sorts to that story for a long time, and now it’s here.
Robert the Bruce isn’t really a sequel to Braveheart for obvious reasons but it’s not tough to see the connective tissue. The movie premiered at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival, where it got mixed reviews. The Guardian called it ‘well-meaning’ but obviously ‘pandering to Scottish sentimentality over this period in history’ in their three star review; The Scotsman said it was ‘handsomely shot but dramatically inert’; and The Times dismissed it as ‘quasi-historical propaganda’ with ‘some of the worst Scottish accents committed to celluloid’. It’s a small film, made on a low budget and shot in Montana, one with very few Scottish actors in its ensemble (but it does have Jared Harris!), directed by Australian Richard Gray, and distributed by a minor company. In short, it’s the sort of movie that, speaking on purely logistical and economic terms, was probably never going to be seen by a massive amount of people, and in the current climate of indie cinema, it would be exceedingly difficult to get it to a wider audience in a cost efficient manner.
So, on that level, I get why Angus Macfadyen has decided to react to recent news that Cineworld won’t be screening the film in Scotland with some anger. Wouldn’t you be miffed if the film you’d worked on for years wasn’t going to be seen in your homeland? But Macfadyen has decided that this slight is politically motivated. To be more specific, he has taken this as further proof that Cineworld of all companies are stridently anti-Scottish independence and are censoring a film that is explicit in its agenda to further the cause.
be interesting to hear why Scots in Scotland cannot see this film about our own local hero Robert the Bruce. We await your reason @cineworld There is nothing to fear but fear itself, as the Bruce once said. https://t.co/pJas3n223w— angus macfadyen (@macfadyenangus) June 27, 2019
(By the way, that Bruce quote is not from Bruce. It’s FDR. Macfadyen responded to that fact check in this manner.
So there’s that.
Macfadyen has been pretty successful in rousing up pro-independence supporters in the name of this cause, with multiple politicians from the Scottish National Party getting involved in Twitter and some crying for a boycott.
He’s also been getting… well, let us say conspiratorial.
@cineworld agents are infiltrating threads pretending they've seen the film. I know this for a fact because I am attending many of these screenings in disguise and I have a photographic memory for faces. The fix is on! On to your diabolical tricks. You play a dirty game. FREEDOM! pic.twitter.com/nEp7d7at95— angus macfadyen (@macfadyenangus) June 30, 2019
*sigh* Okay, here’s the thing.
Let’s talk business first of all. Cineworld do not show every film that comes out every week in British cinemas. By and large, they are a multiplex chain who screen movies that are typical of a multiplex. That means you’re more likely to see a lot of blockbusters than smaller films. There are exceptions, of course, but especially during the Summer, the chances are your nearest 16 screens theatre will be dedicating most of those screens to Disney live-action remakes, the newest Marvel title, and maybe the major kids cartoon of the season. A lot of this is out of the cinema’s hands. If they want to show, say, The Lion King, then they are beholden to the company’s extremely strict rules for the right to do so. Disney usually demand that the film have a four week hold in these venues, and that their films be shown in the biggest screens. Break those rules and the penalties are strict. Given how much theatres and the entire box office are essentially being held up by this company in a super terrifying manner, it’s easy to see why people would want to fill their cinemas with the seemingly safe bets of blockbusters. An indie film with middling reviews that came out less than a year after Netflix released their bigger, flashier and more star studded Robert the Bruce movie (the one shot in Scotland) is less likely to get the same treatment.
But this is also not about business. This is politics, and this is about a man trying to drum up support for his movie by claiming oppression at the hands of a major corporation. There’s no proof Cineworld are refusing to show Robert the Bruce because they want to keep the independence cause down. How would that even work? People are being whipped into a frenzy over a mundane business decision and the facts are already being twisted in their favour. See that headline from the pro-independence publication The National calling the film ‘the Bruce epic’? As every review has noted (I haven’t seen the film myself), it’s not an epic movie in any way. Even critics who liked it note that it’s not a film with massive commercial prospects. Not that it has to be, but the dichotomy created here with this idea of the mighty epic underdog that could versus the meanie businessmen is just cheap.
Robert the Bruce will probably play in some arthouse cinemas across Scotland, then go to VOD and find an audience there, although I imagine recent events have provided some much needed publicity to what otherwise would have been just another indie movie.
Overall, what this whole rigmarole has done for me us just remind me of how dire the Scottish film industry currently is. It sorely needs more funding as well as some real provisions for productions and investment in education for Scots who want to enter the industry without going to London. It sucks that great talents like David Mackenzie and Lynne Ramsay have to go to America to keep working, and that legends like Bill Forsyth can’t get new movies off the ground. It’s a true crime that the Scottish channel the BBC created has offered so few chances for upcoming talent and enthusiastic creators to get a national platform. There are so many ways we could criticize the industry and the government for not doing enough to support what should be one of our greatest industries. Trying to get a flag waving protest going over a major cinema chain’s reasonable business decision feels like a waste of our precious time.
Also, guess where the pro-independence Yes campaign launch happened during the referendum in 2012? Cineworld in Edinburgh.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.