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The Flying Scotsman
cast: Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Boyd, Brian Cox, Morven Christie, and Laura Fraser

director: Douglas Mackinnon

98 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 16:9
MGM DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by James A. Stewart
This is a film where the underdog wins. That clichéd sports film maxim of a dreamer who sets a seemingly impossible task, meets with glorious failure and then dusts himself down to return victorious, in spite of the challenges faced, is the cornerstone of The Flying Scotsman. Yes, if it weren't so true it would be amazingly corny.

However, The Flying Scotsman is much more than a sports film. This biopic charts Scottish cycling legend, Graeme Obree's rise to cycling world champion and a multiple record holder with the aid of spare parts and marmalade sandwiches. It centres on the years from 1993-5 during which time he broke the world hour record, twice. Also during this time he won the world four km pursuit, twice. What made his achievements even more sensational was that these victories were achieved against a backdrop of assiduous interfering by the sport's governing body, as well as the most serious bouts of depression that eventually led to his attempt to take his own life.

Jonny Lee Miller (Trainspotting, Hackers, Byron) is superb as Obree and portrays the various moods of the cyclist, from determination to depression via exaltation, with great empathy. In many ways there are parallels between Obree's battle with depression and Lance Armstrong's fight with cancer. The cast includes Billy Boyd (Lord Of The Rings trilogy) and Brian Cox (X-Men 2, Red Eye) both ably supporting Miller in bringing this story to life. But perhaps the most accomplished performance is from Laura Fraser as Obree's wife - she is the one person who truly understands his moods and ambitions. The four main cast members combine to produce a film that is moving, funny in places, and excellently paced by director Douglas Mackinnon, so much so that it was nominated for five Scottish BAFTAs in 2006 (best actor, actress, director, film, and screenplay).

At times true stories can be embellished to suit the silver screen. The Flying Scotsman keeps the issue of Obree's depression and suicide attempt at arm's length. Instead, Mackinnon prefers to focus in on his challenge with the authorities who had taken great umbrage to Obree's riding style but perhaps more pertinently his bike design and the threat its idiosyncratic design could have on the sponsors own designs, and profits. Tellingly his brother died in 1994 and no mention of this is made in the film. Obree's own, full and frank account of the personal struggles faced, are available in the autobiography of the same name and was the basis for this film.

As far as biopics go, this is a must-see. Not just because it is one man prevailing against the odds but because the strong cast keep the film real and allow the viewer to develop a bond with Obree, by the end you want him to win. If he can do it, so can you. Ultimately, it tells the true and sometimes difficult story of a sporting hero. Forget your celebrity corner takers at LA Galaxy or jungle-bond C-list wannabes; people like Graeme Obree provide real inspiration.
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