Alan Cumming in My Old School shows Scotland’s stranger-than-fiction stories can make compelling viewing – Brian Ferguson
It was an unexpected start to 2022 to get to work on a story which almost took me back to the start of my journalism career.
A new chapter for the true-life tale of Brandon Lee, the false persona adopted by 30-year-old Brian MacKinnon to re-enroll as a 16-year-old at Bearsden Academy, was a bizarre enough prospect without the involvement of Alan Cumming.
It was always going to take something a bit special to lure Cumming back from Hollywood and Broadway to make a new film in Scotland – even if this one has him appearing in a classroom lip-synching a new interview with MacKinnon.
The fact that this has been secured by an old classmate of MacKinnon, Jono McLeod, for his debut feature film, adds another element of intrigue for a project which Cumming is confidently predicting will “captivate a global audience”.
Due to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this month, My Old School certainly has all the makings of being one of the biggest films to emerge from Scotland this year.
But I also wonder if it will inspire further thoughts among writers, directors and producers about what other stranger-than-fiction Scottish stories can be brought to life on the screen.
There has been something of a boom in documentary making, in particular, in recent years.
Real-life tragedy has inevitably been at the forefront, with Fire In The Night chronicling the unfolding of the Piper Alpha disaster and, more recently, powerful new programmes recalling the impact of the Ibrox disaster in 1971 and the Bible John murders in the late 1960s.
However slightly strange stories and curious characters can make for compelling viewing.
One of the most memorable for me was Scotland 78: A Love Story, which sought out the recollections of the fans who bought into the national football side’s dreams of World Cup glory in Argentina.
Last year actor Mark Bonnar explored the street sculpture created for Scotland’s new towns in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, including his father’s own concrete hippos for Glenrothes.
Feature films inspired by real-life Scottish stories have been something of a mixed bag.
It will probably be hard for anything to beat Whisky Galore, the Ealing comedy inspired by the famous 1941 incident off the Hebridean island of Eriskay when the SS Politician ran aground with a vast cargo of whisky. A remake six years ago was pretty pointless, despite the presence of Eddie Izzard and Gregor Fisher.
Stone of Destiny, the 2008 film based on its famous Christmas Day kidnapping from Westminster Abbey by a group of Scottish students in 1950, definitely failed to live up to expectations.
But two of the most delayed Scottish feature films to be released in modern times are well worth seeking out – The Flying Scotsman, which recalls how Graeme Obree became a world record breaking cyclist on a bike made from old washing machine parts, and The Rocket Post, which relived a German scientist’s experiments to test a new rocket-based airmail service in the Outer Hebrides in the 1930s.