Gallant Scots versus craven fops

Issue 

Rob Roy
Starring Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange, John Hurt, Tim Roth and Eric Staltz
Directed by Michael Caton-Jones
Reviewed by Barry Healy

Robert Roy MacGregor was a Scottish clan chief whose life, mediated through a great romantic book by Sir Walter Scott and now the Hollywood dream machine, has come to symbolise the heroic struggle of the highland clans against the spread of English power and capitalism in the 18th century.

Luckily for Rob Roy, on this occasion, the dream machine is in the hands of a Scottish director, Michael Caton-Jones, and great vengeance is unleashed on the English. Never before have such dandified fops so ruthlessly ravaged the oppressed and never have the gallant and honourable downtrodden appeared so, well, unwashed.

The film opens with a highlander searching for stolen cattle, detecting the age of a cowpat by chewing on it. If you're not ready for such graphic details of mores and customs of the 1700s, Rob Roy is definitely not for you.

Some details I would have happily not witnessed included a graphic rape and another very offensive abuse of a woman. These are served up as proof of the irredeemable vileness of the simpering baddies. But I think film makers can do a lot better than just use women as foils with which male characters demonstrate their good or bad morality.

At bottom, while this film is played against some of the most tumultuous history and most beautiful countryside in the British Isles, it is a Hollywood action/love story. When Rob Roy has to do what a man has to do, he strides in exactly the same footsteps as John Wayne and countless others. His long suffering but loving wife Mary must wait at the homestead like so many before her.

But with Liam Neeson, playing Rob Roy, looking as windswept and craggy as the beautiful mountains in which it's filmed, and Jessica Lange doing a fetching job of speaking with a Scottish accent, I would defy even the most cynical not to shed a tear at their parting when Rob goes off to fight the evil Cunningham.

English actor Tim Roth overacts Cunningham beautifully and comes close to stealing the movie. In the end you are left with the feeling that, for all his honour, Rob Roy is a one dimensional character. A diverting and engrossing film for those willing to enjoy the genre.

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