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By Jason Michael
CINEWORLD’S DECISION not to show Richard Gray’s Robert the Bruce in its Scottish cinemas raised one hell of a stink in the independence movement. Angus Macfadyen, the actor who played Robert the Bruce in Mel Gibson’s 1995 film Braveheart, who is also the producer and screenwriter of this Robert the Bruce, has never hidden the film’s political purpose – saying he wants it to fuel the cause for independence in his native country. Neither did The Times hide the political nature of its criticism of the production. From start to finish, everything about Robert the Bruce is political, and so cinema goers in Scotland were right to suspect Cineworld’s motives in giving the film a miss. In spite of describing it “a hard-hitting historical epic,” the US-based Rotten Tomatoes website awarded the movie an abysmal 33 per cent, an indication the film – in terms of its entertainment value – isn’t very good. Even Grouse Beater, like myself, an ardent independentista, struggles to love the film for the sake of its filmishness (definitely not a word): “…it captivates when it draws parallels with contemporary Scotland, [but] stumbles when too heavy-handed with the poetic.”
Having not seen the film as yet, the impression I get – when forced to be purely objective, is that this is your classic made-for-TV film. It’s no Braveheart and it’s no Outlaw King, but, having said this, this is not the point. Cineworld claimed its decision was based on the assumption, backed up by the rotten reviews, that it would not bring in much at the box office. But we all know that the power of books and movies to make money isn’t limited to their qualities as works of literature and drama – and more especially when these are invested with political significance. Considering the size and drive of the independence movement in Scotland, with some recent polls putting support for independence over 50 per cent, it’s a no-brainer that a film titled Robert the Bruce or even The Revolt of the Haggis’ (my retirement fund idea) will have Scottish punters moving in droves to the big screen. Cineworld knows the score, it knows how to get money from the public – it has certainly screened some absolute tripe in the past for exactly this reason.
A movie about Robert the Bruce doesn't have commercial appeal in Scotland? Really? Would be nice to have a discus… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Ross Greer (@Ross_Greer) June 28, 2019
It didn’t take a genius to then suspect there was a political reason why such a film wouldn’t be appearing in this chain’s Scottish cinemas. And before you go thinking this is the stuff of conspiracy theory and tinfoil hats, this has happened before. Ahead of the launch of the Outlander series in the UK – just in time for the 2014 independence referendum, the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, approached Sony, asking it to delay the series’ release until after the referendum. Cameron understood well the power of entertainment media to sway public opinion. It stands to reason, then, that the British government has a dog in the race when it comes to what Scottish people are watching in the cinema or enjoying on their television sets in the comfort of their own homes. There was nothing at all unreasonable about suspecting something similar may have happened over this film.
But this is not how everyone in the independence movement saw it. CommonSpace journalist Alasdair Clark, enjoying a sneer at the wider movement with Jennifer Jones, tweeted that a “senior BBC employee” had informed him “a D-notice [was] in place over the Robert The Bruce movie.” When Angela Haggerty, former editor-in-chief of CommonSpace, was kicked out Clark and I had words over the reputational damage Haggerty had cause the website. He assured me at that time that things were better, that CommonSpace was on the side of the independence movement. So, it came as something of a shock to see him mocking me on social media. On the back of his tweet, I repeated his claim. It was, of course, a lie – and I had made a fool of myself. Trusting a fellow independence supporter and a fellow journalist at CommonSpace was not such a good idea. Alastair Clark, like “Captain Haggerty” before him, was using the sight to deride what they see as the gullibility and stupidity of those in the grassroots of the movement. Lesson learned. CommonSpace was returned to the block list along with another too-cool-for-school CommonSpace “journalist.”
A study of social media. Thanks for coming to my Ted talk. https://t.co/XzjKxwN6aQ—
Alasdair Clark (@alasdair_clark) June 29, 2019
There is precious little to support the idea that CommonSpace is a pro-independence newsie website. In fact, it has never actually claimed to be pro-independence. It is an “independent” media website, and this is something quite different from a site that takes a political position. The truth is that sites like CommonSpace are simply vehicles for getting their editors and their cronies into paid employment; they are alternative routes into the profession exploited by self-serving nest featherers.
As was the case with the Outlander arrangement in 2014, we won’t know the full facts until we have a whistle-blower. We shall have to wait and see. Yet, given what is known of the behaviour of the British state in the realm of culture in Scotland, we cannot afford to be naïve. It would be dangerous to reject out of hand the idea that either Cineworld was approached by the London government or that the company made the decision on the grounds of the political opinions of its bosses. When it comes to the many tentacles of Britain, we would do well to exercise a hermeneutic of suspicion. However, the carry on did give the movement the opportunity to flex its muscles. With the launch of an online petition, regular coverage of the standoff in The National, and the many public complaints the decision provoked, Cineworld capitulated and agreed to show Robert the Bruce in some of its Scottish cinemas. This is something we cannot forget: We in the independence movement – a social and political movement for the political aspiration of at least half of Scotland – have incredible power in our hands. If Robert the Bruce has taught us anything, it is that if we do not succeed at first, we should try, and try, and try again (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
ROBERT THE BRUCE Official Trailer (2019)