The Flying Scotsman

By Russell Baillie

Herald rating: * * * * Verdict: Biopic of a troubled cycling champ might not always be on the right track, but like that train it never runs out of puff

You can hear the gears of the script of this grinding a little too hard as it cranks its way through the deep troubles and towering triumphs of 90s Scottish cycling sensation Graeme Obree. And there are times its efforts at keeping its depiction of how a brilliant amateur from a cycling backwater beat the best lycra billboards in the world seem like the film is happy to be sluggish television rather than visceral cinema.

That may have something to do with its troubled production, which in turn seems to have affected its fortunes since - after debuting at last year's Edinburgh Film Festival - has yet to get a British release. But, like Obree, it has more than enough heart to get it through. And while it's sometimes clumsy in its depiction of Obree's often crippling depression, it doesn't skimp on how severely it impacted on his life or how his obsessive sporting drive was wrapped up in it.

Obree wasn't just a tough pair of legs attached to some bagpipe-strength lungs. He invented his own track-bike which he rode in the "superman stance" on which he set the world one-hour record. The cycle used BMX parts and bits of the family washing machine.

And it set up Obree for constant run of showdowns with the sport's Euro-czars, apparently only interested selling sponsors' conventional bikes.

Although the script gives the impression of working through a checklist, this film makes us care about this superman who wasn't. That's helped by Obree's portrayal by Miller with solid support from the rest of the cast, especially Boyd as his long-suffering manager.

But although flawed it's gripping, affecting and inspiring. Yes, it attempts to say some serious things about how mental illness can affect even the most sound of body. Personally, being half Scottish and barely half a cyclist, it had me at: "Och aye, can ya fix my pedal please laddie".


Cast: Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Boyd, Laura Fraser, Brian Cox
Director: Douglas Mackinnon
Rating: M
Running time: 96 mins
Screening: Rialto

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