Top 10: Scotland, On Screen and Behind the Camera

We’re proud of the variety and depth of the Media Services collection. In the interest of bringing you some highlights and deep cuts from our shelves, we’ll be posting unusual and interesting Top 10 lists of some of our favorite DVDs.

Today, Scotland heads to the polls to vote on whether to declare independence. Even if the vote fails, this election may be one of the most momentous in recent European history. In Media Services, we’ve been abuzz with one question: if Scotland declares independence, do we start looking at their national cinema separate from the United Kingdom too? This is an especially hard question to answer given the fluid national identity of the UK.

Regardless, Scotland has a quality film history, both in on-screen depictions and from their filmmakers. We’ve done a little perusing, and we’d like to share what we consider the top ten films in Scotland and from Scotland.

(And sorry, but we made the executive decision not to include Highlander on this list.)

This is Alfred Hitchcock’s only film set in Scotland, and it’s a doozy. Many consider it among Hitchcock’s best films shot in the United Kingdom, and its narrative elements – an innocent man on the run, unexpected character deaths, a MacGuffin – anticipate some of his later masterpieces like Psycho and North by Northwest.

Maybe it’s a little obvious, but this 1995 Best Picture winner remains the most iconic depictions of Scotland in the history of film. There is perhaps no more widely recognized symbol of of Scottish nationalism than William Wallace screaming “Freedom!” Expect many Braveheart references in tonight’s news coverage.

Outside of Brave, there are very few animated films set in Scotland. This one, based on an unproduced screenplay by French director Jacques Tati, follows a magician who sunsets his career in Scotland. Melancholy and wistful, The Illusionist is a gorgeous film that was rightly nominated for the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar.

Bill Forsyth is probably the first name you would put on a list of Scottish national cinema directors. His 1983 comedy about a Texan oil baron attempting to buy a coastal Scottish town is a tribute to everything beloved about his country. Critics swooned over it too: Local Hero is among the only films with a shocking 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Ratcatcher is a coming-of-age story, but it is perhaps most notable for setting that story against the background of the 1973 Glasgow garbage strikes. That event is an underdocumented, fairly ugly moment in Scottish history, and Ratcatcher engages with this past in rare form.

Yes, Rob Roy is the product of an American studio, and its lead actor is Irish. But this story of one of the great Scottish folk heroes is an indelibly Scottish experience. The entire film was (beautifully) shot in the Highlands and makes use of real castles, though this lead to all sorts of production-related weather and travel nightmares.

Starring a pre-Doctor Who Christopher Eccelston, this dark crime comedy was a sleeper success that found new life with a 2012 Criterion re-issue. The film is also notable as the first product of frequent collaborators Danny Boyle and John Hodge. This directing-writing duo would go on to produce one of the most famous of all Scottish films…

Danny Boyle’s gonzo take on heroin and economic depression in Edinburgh is remembered for its vibrant and manic performances, particularly from then-unknown Ewan McGregor. That one of the most famous Scottish films is about drugs and squalor isn’t necessarily a negative. Frank McAveety, a former Scottish tourism minister, called the attention “welcome.”

The original Wicker Man (not the regrettable Nicolas Cage remake) is a masterwork of horror that uses the Scottish isles to great effect. Christopher Lee gives one of the most powerful performances of his career as the leader of a pagan cult tied to a young girl’s disappearance.

Whisky Galore! is a love letter to an acquired taste in alcohol. When a ship carrying an astronomical amount of whiskey crashes in Scotland, the local village goes nuts defending and/or looting it. This is a certifiably silly movie that probably doesn’t help Scotland’s reputation, but it certainly doesn’t pretend to be anything but madcap.

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