The Giftie Gie Us

Listening to the last act of ORF’s live broadcast of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor on top of today’s EFF premiere of Brave and Cummings in Macbeth earlier in the week, I am struck by the contrasting views that various “furriners” appear to have of Scotland. Seen through such a prism—as opposed to a flurry of petty tweeting about who’s more Scots than whom—the place Scotland holds in the world looks pretty secure.

What does it matter that Lucia flits among the standard amorous travails of Italian opera and that neither Lammermoor nor Ravenswood Castle exists, let alone the feckless Enrico? Brenda Rae’s soaring aria as Lucia has the Wiener Staatsoper audience applauding out of their seats at the romantic aura woven about what we locals know to be  as bleak a haar-whipped treeless waste of heather and bracken as you could wish for.

For decades, we Scots have been touchy about Macbeth, claiming he wasn’t as bad a lad as made out. Possibly not, but Shakespeare gave us a more mordant, rounded picture of the human frailties of those who rule than private secretaries (or the BBC) will ever dare reveal. What really happened 1040-1057AD we’ll never know—but civilised and pretty, it wasn’t. But if Macbeth’s sole legacy is one of the finest scripts to grace the English language, what more would anyone want to be remembered by?

And so to the latest portrayal of medieval Scots, this time by Californians. Some had expected a Brigadoonish worst but they needn’t have worried. Not only has Pixar done this one with their usual panache, visual style and attention to detail but McToyStory it is not: they went to the trouble of researching the culture and hiring authentic voices. With Kelly MacDonald and The Big Yin, backed up by a host of weel-kent voices, it avoids the cod-Scots weak spots of Braveheart and Rob Roy to make you think we might have made it ourselves—if only we’d had the time/equipment/money/skill/gumption.

But no matter. Just as Donizetti’s Lucia can make something heart-renderingly beautiful out of the glaur of Spartleton Edge so Macbeth can mix feminism with power politics to make a heady brew that carries a kick even today:

“Yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness. To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great; Art not without ambition; but without the illness should attend it.”

But what is delightful about Brave is that it isn’t Braveheart. That was a film of its time, when Scotland was still politically asleep and barnstorming patriotic fire was finally lit under those who had seen too many feeble fifties and rusting Ravenscraigs. What we have is humorous entertainment that grandads can take kids to see or vice versa. But, better than that, non-Scots (yes, I mean our English cousins) won’t be offended by either the towering ruthlessness Patrick McGooghan brought to Edward I or the foppish guile with which Tim Roth infused his Archibald Cunningham.

I expect the main difficulty non-Scots will have will be with the accents—everything, including a broad Doric, is uncompromisingly to the fore. But I hope everyone can get beyond that because, despite being animation, this comes across as a real film about real Scots—with all our flaws, quirks and idiosyncrasies. You will swear you know half of these people, even though they’re a cartoon. If there’s a cringe or hidden apology in there, I missed it—it strikes me very much as a major milestone in our cultural coming-of-age.

The only complaint I have is that we should have had the gumption and foresight to make the film ourselves.  But, much more than the other renditions of Scotland described above, this may be the best way to date tae see oorsels as ithers see us.

About davidsberry

Local councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Stood for the Scottish Parliament 2011; lost by 151 votes.
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