Dir. Charles Martin Smith. UK/Canada. 2008. 96 mins
A defining moment in the forging of Scottish nationalism is transformed into an Ealing-style comedy caper in Stone Of Destiny, a sentimental rendition of the true theft - or liberation - of the ancient Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey.
This long-gestating project has been a labour of love for writer/director Charles Martin Smith and emerges as an old-fashioned, unashamed heartwarmer more likely to prove a crowd- pleaser than a critical favourite.
Mel Gibson managed to attract global interest in the Scottish struggle for independence with Braveheart, but the cosy, family-friendly Stone Of Destiny is unlikely to make a comparable dent on the international marketplace. The anti-English sentiments on display put a question mark over the extent of its domestic appeal outside Scotland for UK distributor Odeon Skyworks, but DVD and ancillary markets should prove more fruitful.
Any film that begins with a skirl of the bagpipes and a sweeping view of rugged countryside has already set the tone for what is to come, and Smith constantly accentuates the positive in this wholesome piece which celebrates youthful idealism.
Frustrated by the apathy of his fellow Scots, young patriot Ian Hamilton (Charlie Cox) vows to create a symbolic gesture that will rekindle nationalist fervour across the land by returning the Stone of Scone to its rightful place in Arbroath. In order to carry out his plan, he enlists the help of Kay (Kate Mara), boozy, bullish engineering student Gavin (Stephen McCole) and shy teenager Alan (Ciaron Kelly), who owns a car. During Christmas 1950 they successfully undertake their daring raid into the heart of London even though it quickly descends into farce with the loss of car keys, the dropping of the stone, interventions from a caring constabulary and repeated high-speed dashes around the streets of Westminster as dawn begins to break.
Dealing in grand gestures and simple sentiment, Stone Of Destiny takes a decidedly romantic view of these true events. This is the kind of tale where news of the stone’s theft brings the populace of Scotland rushing to the streets in joyful celebration and prompts Hamilton’s previously dour father (played by Peter Mullan) to express pride in his son for the very first time. Some will find the sentimentality easy to resist and the storytelling simplistic, compacting the events into a neat tale with a happy ending and giving little sense of the months that passed between the theft of the stone and the discovery of its new hiding place.
Bursts of beautiful scenery and glowing period recreations make the film easy on the eye. Sporting an acceptable Scottish accent, Charlie Cox confirms the leading man appeal displayed in Stardust and makes Hamilton a very likable, engaging figure. A solid supporting cast includes Robert Carlyle as John MacCormick, Chairman of the Covenant Movement and clandestine supporter of Hamilton, and Brenda Fricker as the latter’s housekeeper. Christopher Lee’s role as the elder Hamilton has been cut, suggesting the film might once have been structured around a flashback approach that has now been dropped in favour of a more straightforward retelling of rousing events.
Infinity Features Entertainment
The Mob Film Company
(1) 310 777 8855
Charles Martin Smith
based on The Taking Of The Stone Of Destiny by Ian Hamilton