Prince of Muck: Unlikely Scottish film star emerges from remote Hebridean island

He has spent more than half a century farming on a remote Hebridean island.

Friday, 20th August 2021, 4:55 am
Lawrence MacEwen is the focus of the new documentary Prince of Muck.

Now 80-year-old Lawrence MacEwen has become an unlikely Scottish film star, thanks to a documentary depicting his struggles to preserve his vision of life on the island, which has a population of around 38 people.

Dutch filmmaker Cindy Jansen spent more than four years capturing MacEwen and his family, who have owned Muck for more than a century.

She depicts the enigmatic laird’s struggle to accept he is no longer in control of his family or the island, and reveals tensions over the way it should be evolving under younger generations.

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Premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Prince of Muck is being shown in another 14 locations, including Muck’s community hall.

Jansen was initially drawn to make a film in another of Scotland ’s Small Isles after a rare crime was committed.

She said: “I read a newspaper article about a shop with an honesty box on Canna which was robbed.

“When I started to plan a visit and told the islanders that I wanted to make a film, I was told I wasn’t welcome as they were tired of the media attention.

“But what had really interested me was the fragility of such a small community and how society gets totally disturbed when such a thing happens. I started looking at other islands and found Muck.

“I grew up in a very small village as an outsider. I wasn’t born there, so we were like immigrants. We also lived in the outskirts, so it was hard to become part of the community.

"I was initially curious about what happens when you arrive on the Small Isles as an outsider. But I soon found out that it’s very hard to make a film in a small community. People were a bit afraid they’d say something wrong.

“I intended to have more islanders in the film, but it slowly narrowed down to the MacEwens. I was really interested in how they had managed to run the island for all these years.”

Prince of Muck has had its world premiere as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Jansen first visited Muck in 2015, shortly after the raid on Canna’s community shop, and shot the last footage weeks before Scotland went into lockdown in March last year.

She said: “I didn’t tell anyone I was coming to Muck the first time I visited. Lawrence was actually off the island, but I heard a good deal about him from his family.

"He’s like an open book. He carries the history of the island. He’s like the last emperor.

“I really like him, his stubbornness and the fact he’s very open. He doesn’t hold back at all.

Dutch filmmaker Cindy Jansen launched Prince of Muck at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Picture: Pako Mera

“Lawrence and his son Colin have very different views on how to run an island. Lawrence was mostly into farming and less into keeping the housing up to standard than Colin, who has to do a lot of work that Lawrence never did.

“The MacEwens have a huge amount of responsibility in owning such a place and I think they've done a good job.

“People think life on a small island is laid-back and idyllic, but it’s not. It’s harsh and isolated. You have to be resilient.

"My appreciation of island life has grown enormously. I now see that if you’re in charge of stuff it’s tough."

The new film portrays how Lawrence MacEwen has battled to preserve his vision of island life on Muck, in the Inner Hebrides.
Prince of Muck is being screened in 15 locations across Scotland.