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Scotland is lovely backdrop for ‘Rob Roy’

GOOD MORNING FROM SCOTLAND, 120 miles north of Galway into the Scottish Highlands where United Artists is filming its big costume epic “Rob Roy” for next summer. This is a Scottish picture through and through, and there’s no place that can compare with the country I’ve seen on the drive up here. But first, director Michael Caton-Jones corrected me, “This is not an epic — it’s an intimate picture. It’s not about kings and queens,” he added, referring to the giant “First Knight” about which I wrote last week from England. The “intimacy” is the story about Robert McGregor, known as Rob Roy — as played by Liam Neeson, and his wife, played by Jessica Lange. And boy, is it intimate! Three sequences unspooled by Caton-Jones for me included one in which a nude Neeson climbs into bed with Lange. Another touching love scene’s set outdoors. The third was a violent rape sequence in which Lange is violated by Tim Roth. No punches are pulled. Roth, watching the rushes with us, admitted the only way they could get through the highly dramatic — devastatingly realistic — scene was because of Lange’s terrific sense of humor — after every take.

OTHER SEQUENCES WILL SHOW American moviegoers this countryside as a backdrop. The lakes, more correctly “lochs,” like Loch Lomond, Loch Linnhi and others stretch endlessly through mountain ranges. The water is so still and black, it mirrors the mountains with their velvety covering of moss or statuesque evergreens. It’s like looking at two sites simultaneously. The moors abound with flowers, and plump white sheep polka-dot the mountainside. Occasionally a long-horned cow meanders among the sheep. Caton-Jones’ camera sweeps across the landscape and stops in front of the imposing figure of blazing red-haired Neeson. Behind him, waterfalls roar down countless crevices in the mountainsides. Ominous boulders perch precariously alongside the flora and fauna , the latter unconcerned and standing at angles that defy balance. At the mountaintops wisps of new snow covers last year’s remains. Caton-Jones has answered the questions of why he is shooting here. It didn’t seem like a prop, but — a sign on the road read, “Bag Pipe Works and Kilt Maker.” Yes, Neeson has been wearing a kilt. And Caton-Jones tells me he thinks Neeson will never be without one again. Neeson tells me the movie is “period romantic as well as swashbuckling.” The action, he tells me, is also rugged –“In one scene I am dragged over the land by a horse.” If this scene sounds like something out of a Western, that’s intentional by director Caton-Jones. “I studied John Ford and David Lean. They’re my gods.” Alan Sharp, who wrote for Sam Peckinpah, did this screenplay and Caton-Jones says, “This is a Western — we’ve substituted swords for guns.” Pointing to the mountains, he said, “This is like Monument Valley — except it is green. This is a one-on-one picture. It’s a fallacy you need thousands of extras to be effective. In ‘Memphis Belle’ I only used four planes for everything. Nothing can substitute for good filmcraft.”

CATON-JONES IS BRINGING in the UA’er at $ 25 million. “It’s immoral to spend more. I like to be responsible,” he added. “Making a costume picture gives you discipline.” Caton-Jones, born in Scotland, the son of a miner, went to film school in London. “I have a humane irreverance,” he laughed, adding, “every day I have a moral repercussion.” He has decided to give up living in Brentwood and is moving his family to Ireland and will edit this film there. “I want my children to have a normal growing-up.” He is highly appreciative of the working arrangement with John Calley and UA, and says the movie came together with “go” in only three weeks. That’s with the stars. Of course, producers Peter Broughan and Richard Jackson had been working on the Rob Roy story since 1991 and got Scottish Film Production Fund financial support for Sharp’s script followed by British Screen finance and the European Script Fund. Calley was the first to read it and OK’d it immediately. Production designer Asheton Gorton (“Blow Up, “”The French Lieutenant’s Woman”) has created the 1713 settings. Vic Hobbs, the movie’s swordsmaster, also trained Neeson for John Boorman’s “Excalibur.” Eric Stoltz who co-stars, worked for Caton-Jones in “Memphis Belle”– he has a different, long-haired look for this one. He’s been visited by Bridget Fonda, and — make of it what you will — they stayed in the “honeymoon suite” at the Glenspean Lodge Hotel near the location. It’s a very romatic spot.

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