Directed by Douglas Mackinnon
Written by John Brown and Declan Hughes
Released June 29
The underdog sports movie is usually packed with pomp and bombast, propelled by stacked odds and training montages, capped with a nail-biting finish and a swell of emotional catharsis. Sadly, The Flying Scotsman is no different. Director Douglas Mackinnon’s weaves the true tale of Scottish cyclist Graeme Obree (Johnny Lee Miller) the owner of a small bike repair shop in Troon, who in 1993 assembled his own racing cycle out of scrap metal and washing-machine parts. Riding “Old Faithful,” (that’s the first tick on your cliché check list) the underdog succeeded in breaking the world one-hour record before his bike and riding style was deemed inappropriate by World Cycling Federation officials. The film charts the rise, fall and rise again of Obree as he struggles with undiagnosed bipolar disorder.
The films dark opening sequence, in which Obree goes out into the woods to hang himself, gives a false sense for the feature that follows and seems entirely inappropriate in hindsight. Obree’s depression, like Johnny Cash’s drug addiction in Walk the Line, is nothing more than a third act afterthought, overcome by a nice chat with the paternal Priest Douglas Baxter (Brian Cox). That Mackinnon and screenwriters Brown and Hughes foreground the disease to give weight to a saccharine retelling of a genuinely inspiring story leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
Miller is solid if a little over earnest in the lead role, and Billy Boyd is fine as his amiable best friend and manager Malky. The cliché-ridden script hampers them as they bumble through big race training, the obligatory big fall out and manly hug filled reunion and, most peculiarly the battle with the Die Hard-esque Euro-villains who run the WCF. Mackinnon’s direction is also television level at best (he is currently responsible for the black hole in the TV schedule that is Jekyll), and never really captures the thrill of the sport. The Flying Scotsman isn’t a terrible film but it’s such a bijou and unambitious account of Obree’s life that it’s unfortunate that its probably the best cycling film ever made even if only by default.