Obsession, Obree and Old Faithful
Whilst it may share a name with a famous locomotive "The Flying Scotsman" is in fact an interesting movie about Scottish cyclist Graeme Obree who back in 1993 hit the headlines when he set a new world record on a bike he made himself, a bike which used washing machine parts amongst other things. I say it's interesting rather than entertaining because "The Flying Scotsman" isn't a movie full of drama and tension but more of a look at that period in Obree's life and the problems he faced from suffering with depression through to the cycling officials deciding to ban his bike and innovative riding style. As such "The Flying Scotsman" is interesting because whilst it may not be a rollercoaster ride of emotion it still delivers a fascinating look at Obree the man and the bike he made.
The year is 1993 and Graeme Obree (Jonny Lee Miller - Love, Honour and Obey) is an amateur cyclist who becomes unemployed when his cycling shop goes out of business. He sets about building his own bike using his own revolutionary design and parts cobbled together from all over the place including a washing machine. And this bike which he names "Old Faithful" helps him to make the headlines when he breaks the long standing World one hour cycling record. But along with his own issues with depression he also finds himself having to battle the cycling authorities who dislike his home made bike and ban him from competitions.
Now I do remember the headlines back in the early 90s when Graeme Obree became a well known name thanks to the bike he made using part of a washing machine but I honestly knew little, in fact nothing about the man himself. So when "The Flying Scotsman" opens with a scene of a hooded man walking into the woods carrying a bike and trying to hang himself it is a shock. That scene is explained later on when we discover that Obree, who is the hooded man, suffered from severe bouts of depression and whilst it doesn't lay the blame on it we also learn that as a child Obree was bullied at school. In fact after that scene we are taken back to Obree's childhood where he receives a bike for Christmas and then moves quickly to Obree as a young man with a wife and a failing bicycle shop.
What basically follows on from there is the story of how Obree met pivotal people in his life such as Rev. Baxter and bicycle courier Malky but more importantly his building of the revolutionary bike and his battles with the cycling authorities. Now the thing is all of this is fascinating especially when it comes to Obree designing and building this bike out of bits and pieces as we learn that he took into account such things as the distance between pedals. But it is not the most exciting with the drama of it all quite toned down. So whilst we do witness him going for the one hour world record the excitement of it all almost seems to be subdued, almost more real and so not manufactured to be overly dramatic. And it goes on because whilst we quickly become aware that the cycling authorities lead by Ernst Hagemann disapprove of Obree's bike and riding style the drama of them disallowing him is lost because it's never really played upon.
As such whilst "The Flying Scotsman" is interesting in the way it shows what Obree went through it never really captures the excitement and drama. The knock on effect is that it is a very watch able movie but almost seems to be missing that component of excitement to make his story entertaining. It's as if the director Douglas Mackinnon didn't feel comfortable with trying to overly dramatize the Obree story, and in a way it's noble that he didn't, but in choosing not to he fails to make it an entertaining movie.
Despite this I have to say that Jonny Lee Miller is stunning as Graeme Obree because he creates this character which feels right. What I mean is that it doesn't feel like Miller is acting, reaching for the lines or thinking about his next move but delivering something naturally. As such we do understand how much joy Obree got from cycling as well as those moments when his job of cycling becomes something more driven, some attempt to prove himself. And then we also get that insight into the darker mind of Obree, those moments of detachment when depression struck, never far away from spoiling his enjoyment of cycling. So strong is Jonny Lee Miller's performance that whilst "The Flying Scotsman" features lovely performances from Billy Body and Brian Cox they are over shadowed by the naturalness of Miller.
What this all boils down to is that "The Flying Scotsman" is a very interesting movie rather than an entertaining one although it is very watch able. Its lack of manufactured drama makes it all seem rather subdued but the look at how Graeme Obree went about building his revolutionary bike and his on going battles with the cycling authorities makes it very interesting. And it all feels so natural thanks to a brilliant performance from Jonny Lee Miller as Graeme Obree.