Edinburgh Off To A Flying Start

Report from the 60th EIFF opening night

If its opening night is anything to go by, the Edinburgh International Film Festival is refusing to act its age. While any other 60-year-old would be tucked up in bed with a cup of cocoa, the world’s longest-running movie-fest was partying long into the wee hours, supping down the Famous Grouse cocktails, rubbing shoulders with stars of stage and screen, and warding off the night chill by ogling the hot bar staff. Or maybe that was just me.

In any case, Monday’s curtain-raising bash to the 60th EIFF set the tone for the two weeks that will follow. With an operating budget that wouldn’t even pay the croissant bill at Cannes, Edinburgh has put together an alluring line up of big-star live events and international film premieres. For the opening night, though, it looked closer to home for inspiration. It doesn’t have a cinema distributor yet, but The Flying Scotsman deserved its place on the festival’s launch pad. The story of Ayrshire-born cyclist Graham Obree fits into the Full Monty/Brassed Off/On A Clear Day mould with its underdog-overcomes-adversity plot. In the lead role, Johnny Lee Miller is at his best since Trainspotting, pitting Obree’s bouts of depression against his sheer determination to break the world one-mile cycling record. And although some critics have grumbled about the film’s “television” look, they’re wrong. It’s a thrillingly cinematic film – not just in the atmospheric racing scenes, but in the inventive camera movements and angles.

Slipping a local film into such a prestigious slot can sometimes appear a bit parochial, but the screening of The Flying Scotsman was a genuine world premiere with world-famous stars in attendance. Billy Boyd and Brian Cox (cast in the film as, respectively, Obree’s cheeky chap manager and wise old mentor) raised the event’s profile, along with fellow actors Laura Fraser (playing Obree’s supportive wife Anne) and Niall Fulton (as his small-town bullying nemesis). A kilted Obree was there himself to play local hero on the red carpet. Before the screening, director Douglas Mackinnon relayed the best wishes of Miller to the audience, saying that his star couldn’t be in Edinburgh as he was just going off to fight Ray Liotta. We hope that’s got something to do with making crime drama Smith, but you never know.

With its opening night done and dusted, EIFF now gets stuck into its packed daily programme. Rest assured that Empire Online will be there all the way, dropping off regular updates and star stories on this very site. In fact, I’ve got dates with Sigourney Weaver and Charlize Theron before the end of the week…
Alan Morrison