A cyclist overcomes his maverick professional status and crippling personal demons to seize a championship and break records in "The Flying Scotsman," a sincere but shallow drama based on a real-life story. Though its underdog elements were embraced with warmth by the partisan opening-night crowd at the Edinburgh fest, perfunctory approach to a script blending "The World's Fastest Indian" and "Shine" can't quite kickstart the emotional engines necessary to break away from the pack.

A cyclist overcomes his maverick professional status and crippling personal demons to seize a championship and break records in “The Flying Scotsman,” a sincere but shallow drama based on a real-life story. Though its underdog elements were embraced with warmth by the partisan opening-night crowd at the Edinburgh fest, perfunctory approach to a script blending “The World’s Fastest Indian” and “Shine” can’t quite kickstart the emotional engines necessary to break away from the pack. Limited theatrical is possible, with subsequent pedaling to modest cable and ancillary finishes.

Picked on by young toughs at school, Graeme Obree (tyke Sean Brown) discovers the freedom to escape his tormentors when he’s given a bicycle for Christmas.

Fast-forwarding to the early 1990s, the now-grown Obree (Jonny Lee Miller) runs a failing bicycle shop but is such a fierce competitor in local races that he keeps on pedaling far past the finish line. The big time, however, eludes him.

What the frugal and self-deprecating Obree lacks in financial sponsorship he makes up for in personal support. His wife Anne (Laura Fraser) offers unfailing encouragement while caring for their child. Loyal chum Malky (Billy Boyd) takes on management duties, and Rev. Baxter (Brian Cox) offers serene counseling.

With little funding but a lotta heart, team Obree takes on a conservative racing establishment personified by uptight Teuton Ernst Hagemann (Steven Berkoff). Unimpressed by Obree’s home-made bicycle, dubbed “Old Faithful,” and an unconventional racing posture known as the “superman position,” Hagemann uses his post as head of the World Cycling Federation to make rules that eventually result in Obree’s disqualification.

Nevertheless, Obree won time trial awards in 1993 and 1995, as well as other achievements not covered in the film. His success was hampered by an ongoing struggle with depression, which manifests itself in a few moody script passages and an unsuccessful suicide attempt.

There’s a breathless, almost panicky feel to the screenplay by John Brown, Simon Rose and Declan Hughes that results in an unfortunately superficial treatment of both Obree’s achievements and impediments. Helmer Douglas Mackinnon does what he can to make the most of emotional bullet points and gloss over the lack of connective tissue.

Obviously fit for the part, Miller plays Obree appealingly as a brooding eccentric. Boyd and Fraser bring the requisite sunny sincerity to their largely stock parts, while Cox has some opportunity in the late reels to display quiet gravitas. Morven Christie has little to do as Malky’s g.f. Though some script nuances are lost to foreign ears, the Scottish brogues generally come through well.

Tech package is solid, with Gavin Finney’s fluid lensing typified by an audacious and unbroken shot in and around the floor of one velodrome.

Martin Phipps’ workmanlike score is occasionally used in heavy-handed fashion. Otherwise, finished production gives little indication of apparent behind-the-scenes financial turmoil.

The Flying Scotsman

U.K.

Production

A ContentFilm Intl., Freewheel Intl. presentation of a Flying Scotsman Films, Doosra, Zero West Films production, in association with Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Scottish Screen, Scion Films, DNC Entertainment. (International sales: ContentFilm Intl., London.) Produced by Sara Giles, Peter Gallagher, Peter Broughan. Executive producers, Alasdair Waddell, Simon Rose, Alan Kaplan, Derek Roy, Garth Thomas, Claire Chapman, Jeff Abberley, Julia Blackman, Damita Nikapota. Co-producers, Kai Kuennemann, Martin Hagemann, Niccolo Innocenti. Directed by Douglas Mackinnon. Screenplay, John Brown, Simon Rose, Declan Hughes.

Crew

Camera (color), Gavin Finney; editor, Colin Monie; music, Martin Phipps; production designer, Mike Gunn; costume designer, Alexandra Caulfield; sound ( Dolby Digital), Guido Zettier; assistant director, Francesco Reidy. Reviewed at Edinburgh Film Festival (opening night), Aug. 14, 2006. Running time: 103 MIN.

With

Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Boyd, Laura Fraser, Morven Christie, Steven Berkoff, Brian Cox, Sean Brown.
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