Director: Michael Hoffman
Screenplay: Ninian Dunnett
Starring: Vincent Friel, Jon Mullaney, Ned Beatty, Terry Lally, Bernard Hill
Runtime: 90 minutes
Studiocanal’s Vintage Classics line has a reputation of releasing ‘classic’ British cinema from a bygone age. With the upcoming release of Restless Natives, this will make only the fifth entry from the eighties in the schedule. With that, came some trepidations of whether a film from my own lifetime could be considered a ‘classic’. Surely a sign, that the same label will soon be used to describe me.
Restless Natives is a 1985 Scottish film directed by Michael Hoffman and written by Ninian Dunnett that tells the story (or should I say folk tale) of how two young boys gain fame when they decide to embark on a spree of holding up buses of foreign tourists using items from the novelty shop which they work in. The tale of Wolfman and Clown is told over the period of over 90 minutes in a truly comic style as the two young men battle the economic difficulties of the time to make something of themselves, however dubious their outcomes.
This modern tale of Robin Hood is very much in the style of similar period films that you may have seen such as Bill Forsyth’s Gregory’s Girl or Local Hero. These are both sterling examples of comic Scottish films that exude plenty of heart while nodding more than a head to social and economic issues of the time. While Restless Natives may not have Mr Forsyth’s hand of influence waved over it, there is no denying that the genealogy is strong through its core.
Will (Vincent Friell) and Ronnie (Joe Mullaney) are a lovable double act who use their charm and wit to evade both the police and their own family members. Not all are unaware of their escapades and Will aims to strike up a romance with a tour guides from one of their bus capers. Armed with a motorcycle and a puffer gun, they run riot all over the Scottish countryside as we are treated to the stunning visuals of the Highlands scenery.
One of my favourite scenes is a testament to many father / son relationships throughout the world. Will’s father (played by Bernard Hill with a rather dubious Scottish accent) talks up how useless his son Will is, while also praising the endeavour of the two marauding heroes of the piece. It is a classic take on a scene that plays at every dinner table up and down the country. The humour is deadpan but plays on familiarity. Each rewatch of the film will reward you with numerous example of physical comedy and nuance.
Like Local Hero, there is an American comic foil, in this case played by Ned Beatty (rather than Burt Lancaster). Beatty plays an FBI agent on holiday who gets caught up in one of the heists. Once the crimes catch the attention of the worldwide press, he takes it on himself to solve the mystery. He plays a straight man who no one will take seriously. It adds to the overarching feeling of distrust of authority and anyone imposing their will on the Scots.
The soundtrack to the film will resonate with many who may remember Scottish rock group ‘Big Country’. This provide much of the impetus and energy to entire film as well as giving the whole piece a coherence and identity. It is a real treat.
The film is a treat from start to finish and a great example of British humour that became much more prevalent in the years that followed. I encourage everyone to seek out this release as a treasure for its visual, audio, emotional and understated tour de force. Many films garner the moniker of underrated gem, but few are as deserving of the title as Restless Natives.
Audio Commentary with writer, director and producer – an informative conversation between the three key players in the making of the film. It acts as not only to add some colour to the film but allows each member to ask questions around their decisions in the writing or direction in the film. It keeps the entire commentary interesting from start to finish. The director included many motifs and themes throughout (which gives a treasure hunt to complete on subsequent watches), The whole commentary is full of light jabs at each jokes at each other’s expense as well as bringing appreciation for the contribution of all the cast and crew including wardrobe and prop design.
Retrospective documentary on the making of the film – Many of the actors and production staff talk about their experiences in not only making the film but the aftermath and fallout. Special mention should be given to Vincent Friell (Will) and the writer Ninian Dunnett as it is clear that they are thrilled with the impact it had on both of their lives and careers.
Featurette on The Music of Restless Natives – an interesting look at how Big Country got involved in the soundtrack of the film which is an intrinsic part of what makes the film so successful.
Behind the Scenes Stills Gallery
In summary, the release falls into the must pick up category. It is for anyone who has a love for British cinema that is full of heart, laughs and nostalgia. It is supplemented by a strong commissioned set of extras that reinforces the positive impact the film had on those involved. Restless Native‘s reputation will only continue to grow with the wider release and I shall smile each time I hear someone mention it.
Restless Natives is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Monday 1st March from all major retailers.
If this review piques your interest, we are running a competition to win one of two copies of the release. You can find details of that here.