There is a rumour gaining in circulation that our imaginative friends on t’other side of the Atlantic pond are semi-secretly plotting a major movie on the life of one Robert Burns, Caledonia’s national bard who is to virtually all Scots, and anyone else who has more than three working brain cells, a legendary poet and icon of all that is good in Scottish culture.
As far as I am aware, there have been a few earlier attempts at this difficult and sensitive project, none of which have been of a quality sufficient to remain in public memory.
There can be little doubt the potential for a classic film on the life of Robert Burn is out there, but with the recent passing of Michael Winner is there anyone still capable of this task? Only joking – really!
Burns was a complex and extremely perceptive individual, possessing a huge range of talents, the most important being the ability to accurately observe his fellow man and woman.
With word and rhyme he could woo the fairest lady, deflate the ego of self-important people, and just about everything in between, with inspired use of vocabulary and at times a biting irony that really made his point; but how the dickens can anyone construct a film around that?
Some say a film about Burns might in some ways follow the line of Shakespeare in Love; itself a film that tried hard but never really got it right. I rather think the problem was and is the difficulty in producing a work that is sensitive and subtle without appearing to lack substance.
If you go in heavy handed you will end up with a lampoon of the main character, while too light a touch will reduce the subject to irrelevance.
Students of Robert Burns relentlessly seek out every nuance of his tragically brief life, accepting his shortcomings with the same tolerance they would extend to a member of their own family discovered to be mildly adjusting the rules of social conduct, but that is the way of life.
There is little point in applying the bogus moral standards of the modern tabloid newspaper to a 200-year-old lifestyle. Should any film of the life of Burns give excessive focus on the guy’s complex and interesting love life it will miss the point entirely and the end result would be the usual Hollywood gawp show, but hopefully without the hero blazing away at everything with an assault rifle
Assuming the film goes ahead along American practices, I have a real fear that the main players in the cast will have to be American as in the case of the unfortunate Braveheart film.
I have a suspicion this has to be done to appease various unions and pressure groups, explaining how an Australian/American shorthouse got to play Wullie Wallace, who as any visitor to his statue at Bemersyde will tell you, was huge in stature, although not in personal charm.
I confess I have only viewed snippets of that particular production, but that was enough to deter any further contact. I don’t mind the truth receiving a gentle massage now and then, but there are limits.
Much of any film of the life of Burns would inevitably focus on his love of the ladies, or more accurately their love of Burns himself. Just how one would go about casting the love interest in Robert Burns The Movie without lapsing into absurdity is fraught with some difficulty,
There will, of course, be some who will be rubbing their paws together in anticipation of a cash cow on their doorstep for as long as the film people are in town, but previous experience suggests virtually all the location stuff would be shot in the Irish Republic where tax advantages help with the astronomical budget associated with film production.
The indoors stuff is the province of large studios, so it might be the case that there would be only a tenuous connection with Burns Country over there in a delightful corner of Ayrshire.
My initiation into the works of the Bard was undertaken many years ago by my late father-in-law, who, of course, could do Tam ‘O Shanter word perfect as well as many other of the great works. He even translated and taught Burns to the guards of his prisoner-of -war camp during his five years of captivity.
To my lasting regret, I cannot memorise or recite, but just reading the stuff is good enough for me. I will never be a Burns scholar, attend a Burns supper, or heaven forbid, sing any of his stuff, but on the plus side, I have visited his birthplace and been to look at many of the places where Burns lived, loved and farmed – not a brilliant cv but maybe enough to make me encourage others to reject any attempt at the Disneyfication of his life.
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