Courtesy of MX
Ah, Jonny Lee Millers back on our screens. How weve missed you, Sick Boy. In Douglas Mackinnon's theatrical feature debut, Miller gives one of the most remarkable performances of his career as Graeme Obree, who rose from obscurity to become a record-breaking Scottish phenomenon in world cycling in the early to mid 90s. As with any sports film, adversity trumps hardships. But with The Flying Scotsman, it is a workmanlike, if plaintive biopic that considers the perils of success as much as defeat.
The film bears through Obrees childhood in a council estate through his subsistence as an adult barely being able to run a bike shop in his small town and couriers on the side to keep food on the table. It is meant to be a life with certain missing pleasures, a humdrum banality of an ordinary man that wasnt supposed to have experienced the especial attention heaped on national heroes. Unfortunately, thats as far an insight we receive into Graeme Obree, the man, as opposed to Mackinnons stanch devotion to Obree, the dogged sportsman who defied all expectations to conquer obstacles much more insidious than testicular cancer. And even if the markers of the sports movie genre are manifested in the poverty of new ideas in its execution, theres undeniable resonance in the implication that triumph and deep melancholy are linked in a complex paradox.
The situational conundrums of this film offer a hefty, but darker parallel with The World's Fastest Indian, the vivacious biopic of New Zealander Burt Munro and his motorbike that broke its land-speed records in the 60s. They share the similar industriousness and maverick zeal that infuriated their respective sports bureaucrats with their ingenuity. In this case, with Obree building his racing bike from spare kitchen parts and personalising his instrument with novel riding styles that endeared him to fans and competitors.
Even with the requisite adversary in the World Cycling Federations officious Ernst Hagemann (Steven Berkoff), who attempts to thwart the Scot at every turn, Obrees truest nemesis is his debilitating depression that Mackinnon brusquely associates with buried childhood incidents. Its an unenviable task to craft a viable sense of despair resulting from the illness but a cadre of thankless roles (a clergyman, a wife and a close friend) acerbate the cursive dynamics of simplicity being used to abridge the density of the subject matter.