The Flying Scotsman (15)



Drama (2006)
102mins UK

Starring: Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Boyd, Brian Cox, Laura Fraser
Director: Douglas Mackinnon
Writer(s): John Brown, Declan Hughes, Simon Rose
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Biopic of Scottish cyclist Graeme Obree. Creating his own bicycle, which he nicknamed Old Faithful, using scrap metal and parts from a washing machine, Obree proved that physical might is more important than state-of-the-art technology by beating the one-hour world record on his contraption. Cycling's governing body promptly changed the rulebook to disqualify him, so Obree retaliated by breaking the record again.

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LondonNet Film Review
The Flying Scotsman

Douglas Mackinnon's biopic of sporting triumph against adversity opens with a cyclist striding purposefully through the woods, carrying his bike and a length of rope...

The Flying Scotman. Verve PicturesWhispered voices echo through the trees as the man throws one end of the rope over a low-hanging branch, puts his head through a noose, and nervously prepares to take the plunge. Dark undercurrents course throughout The Flying Scotsman, the remarkable true story of Scottish cyclist Graeme Obree, who built a bicycle using scrap metal and parts from a washing machine, then rode the contraption to gold medal glory at the world championships.

Afflicted by crippling bouts of depression, Obree succeeded against overwhelming odds, pioneering the Superman riding position that would change the image of the sport forever.

The Flying Scotman. Verve PicturesMackinnon's film is unlikely to have a similar impact. Screenwriters John Brown, Declan Hughes and Simon Rose pay glowing tribute to Obree, crafting a simple, uncluttered portrait of tormented genius. Characters are painted in black and white, especially the Machiavellian head of the World Cycling Federation (WCF), Ernst Hagemann (Berkoff), who does everything except twiddle a moustache to twiddle as the pantomime villain who drives Obree to the brink of suicide.

The film begins proper with Graeme (Jonny Lee Miller) reluctantly selling the contents of his old-fashioned bicycle shop after the business goes bust. He takes to the streets as a bicycle courier to keep a roof over the head of his wife Anne (Laura Fraser), and finds a true friend in Malky (Billy Boyd), who agrees to become his manager when Graeme challenges the one-hour distance world record, held for nine years by Francesco Moser (Philip Wright).

The Flying Scotman. Verve PicturesWith enough sponsorship to fund his low-key bid and spiritual guidance from minister Baxter (Brian Cox), Graeme designs his scrap metal bicycle, nicknamed Old Faithful. He also develops a crouched riding position to increase aerodynamics, shaving valuable seconds off his time. Smashing the world record, only to see English cyclist Chris Boardman (Adrian Smith) go even faster less than a week later, Graeme vows to break the record again. However, Hagemann and his cronies at the WCF change the rulebook to prevent Graeme from competing, and then from adopting his trademark riding style.

The Flying Scotsman has ambitions to be Chariots Of Fire on two wheels but there's insufficient emotional depth to Mackinnon's film. Aside from the breathlessly orchestrated cycling sequences, filmed at a German velodrome, there is little in this remarkable story to justify a cinema release. Miller copes well with the physical demands of the role but sheds little insight on the psychological demons, which torment his character, while Cox and Boyd offer robust support. Brief flashbacks serve as a paltry illustration of the bullying Graeme suffers as a schoolboy, which haunts him into adulthood, and the underwritten relationship with wife Anne is another spoke in the wheels.

- Kim Hu

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