2008 / Director. Charles Martin Smith.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Who would have thought it would be an American filmmaker to tell a significant and culturally important story about Scotland's heritage, let alone the director of AIR BUD and DOLPHIN TALE. That man would be Charles Martin Smith, who you would also recognise as a respected actor (NEVER CRY WOLF, THE UNTOUCHABLES) and the film is STONE OF DESTINY.
It depicts the true story of four young Scottish nationalists who stage a brazen heist and steal the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey in London in 1950. The stone was stolen by King Edward I in 1296 and placed beneath a throne at Westminster. Its resting place was a point of contention for centuries with the Scots believing it to be a symbol of their freedom from the British. The story takes place at a time when Scotland was still referred to as North Britain and relations with England were on a knife's edge. Community sentiment was at a breaking point and so when one young anarchist conceived a plan to take it back he enlisted the help of three others as well as support from a high profile nationalist politician.
The first thing that struck me was how well the 1950's era was represented. The production design captures the drab pastel colour scheme that has become synonymous with good celtic cinema and the cinematography showcases the stunning landscapes that are sprawled between the two nations. The production boasts impressive locations with certain scenes suggesting that a lot of influence was relied on to shut down areas of London, so that the period could be captured without any modern details creeping in. Charles Martin Smith demonstrates his clear aptitude for directing, which ought to have been obvious to people who saw beyond the family-friendly nature of his previous films and gave credence to their structural and technical merits. If you were to watch STONE OF DESTINY without knowledge of his nationality you would swear that the film was made by a proud Scot.
The cast includes Robert Carlyle, Kate Mara, Billy Boyd and Brenda Fricker (amongst others), all of which give solid turns. Kate Mara, an American actress, had an impressive grasp of the Scottish accent and plays alongside actual Scots with ease. Another interesting point of casting is the legendary Christopher Lee who was cast as the aged narrator, bookending the film with his reflections of the story. His scenes were ultimately dropped from the final cut and Lee ultimately plays no part in the film. This says a lot about Martin Smith as a director. To loose such a significant player from the project, despite him being a big drawcard, for the sake of cohesion, testifies to the purity and dedication of the story and Martin Smith's commitment.
STONE OF DESTINY is an exciting and patriotic drama that puts Scotland's pride on show, and while it does exploit a lot of tropes, it avoids becoming overly melodramatic or contrived. I also like that it plays in a family-friendly manner. It could have been a much more mature feature, but resisted the urge and ultimately presents an important story that will enlighten the younger generation.
It's a thrilling film. It's an amusing film. And it's a good looking film.... and it's hard to argue with that.