The Flying Scotsman

Starring Jonny Lee Miller, Laura Fraser, Billy Boyd and Brian Cox. Directed by Douglas Mackinnon.
Running Time: 98 minutes
Rated: Rated M (moderate themes, moderate coarse language).

This is a welcome Scots film. They will know the story of Graeme Obree, the 1990s cycling champion and be pleased that it has now been brought to the screen. Members of the other countries of the United Kingdom will welcome him as British. But, it probably helps to know a little of his career and his hard-fought victories and some of his personal struggles.

This is a film that one could recommend for a general audience but, sadly, Graeme Obree has suffered from depression that made him feel suicidal. In fact, the film opens (powerfully but discreetly) with his main depressive episode and returns to it later. However, back we go to his childhood and then his career from 1993-1995.

Graeme was bullied when he was at school which undermined his self-confidence and his self-esteem. However, his policeman father gave him a bike for Christmas and it made all the difference. He could outride his tormentors by riding fast. But it also gave him a sense of exhilaration and he discovered a talent.

The film moves quickly to 1993 when his heyday of winning was over. He is lovingly married to Anne and has a small child. He works as a bike courier in Glasgow. However, his mind keeps ticking over about how to improve his riding technique with the laws of thermodynamics. His mind also keeps ticking over about how to improve the structure of his bikes by the laws of physics.

He was fortunate to find supportive friends. Those in the film are composites of several real characters in his live. One is his friend and manager, Malkey. Another is a supportive older man, Baxter, who he discovers is a minister of the church of Scotland.

History records that Obree tried to break the hour cycle ride, failed and tried again the next morning and succeeded. His bike was built from scratch - and included many scrap parts, along with the ball bearings from the home washing machine. When his record was soon broken, he tried again and succeeded as well as breaking some shorter race records.

The World Cycling Federation took dim views of his winning and altered rules constantly to try to mean-mindedly exclude him.

One of the strengths of the film is that Graeme and Anne Obree were on the set, Graeme doing some of the riding and the couple coaching the actors who portray them.

Jonny Lee Miller trained powerfully to be able to ride and act the part of Grame Obree. Often a sullen-seeming and taciturn performer, he fits this role particularly well and communicates the torment of his depression. Laura Fraser is sensible and vigorous as Anne. The role of Malky is played by an actor who engaged world audiences as a hobbit friend of Frodo, Billy Boyd. Another pleasant surprise is Brian Cox as the sympathetic minister who has experienced sadness in his life but who is able to make an emotional breakthrough that enables Graeme to enter counselling and gain more control of his life.

This is a modest film. Everyone of us has ridden a bike so we can identify with the cycling even if it is in categories way above our competence. But it is a human drama with strong positive values.

RialtoAugust 9

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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