Brian Ferguson: Lockerbie film is a tantalising prospect

Kevin Macdonald is taking on the telling of the Lockerbie disaster on screen.
Kevin Macdonald is taking on the telling of the Lockerbie disaster on screen.
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IT is more than a full week into 2017 and one of my annual festive traditions is still waiting for me.

I don’t know when I started watching BBC Scotland’s Hogmanay output after the main event - or why. But for as long as I can remember I cannot quite click into gear for the new year without reliving the countdown to the big moment with Jackie Bird and her assembled guests.

The fact I’m usually otherwise occupied on Hogmanay during the official festivities is my excuse for missing BBC Scotland’s Hogmanay schedule as it unfolds.

This year there was a slight break from tradition after being offered the chance of a sneak preview of a BBC Scotland documentary charting the history of the nation’s depiction on film and television, which went out before Only An Excuse.

Wha’s Like Us was a largely light-hearted romp back in time to examine Scotland’s relationship with the big screen. It was a helpful reminder of how many romantic depictions of Scotland there have been, in everything from Brigadoon and Whisky Galore to Gregory’s Girl and Local Hero.

There is no shortage of unlikely heroes to choose from, including William Wallace in Braveheart, Mark Renton in Trainspotting, Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps and the titular character in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

One of the more intriguing elements in the programme, which was sadly only touched on briefly, was a segment on some of the grittier dramas made, and set, in Scotland over the last 50 years.

There is no doubt over the quality of filmmakers like Ken Loach, Lynne Ramsay and Peter Mullan, who have been garlanded at some of the world’s leading film festivals for the work they have made in Scotland in the last 20 years or so. There have been numerous portrayals of working class Scots in films like Red Road, My Name is Joe, Ratcatcher, Small Faces and Orphans.

But it is hard to think of many films which have even touched upon the major events of modern-day Scotland.

While the playwrights of the day have regularly tackled the political upheaval in Scotland since the 1970s, filmmakers have been curiously reluctant to tackle some of the defining events that have shaped the country. That is perhaps why it is so intriguing to hear that a feature film exploring the conspiracy theories behind the Lockerbie disaster is being planned by one of the current crop of leading filmmakers.

Lockerbie has long been seen as an untouchable subject for writers and filmmakers to tackle. But the sensitive filmmaking deployed in Fire in the Night, the BAFTA Scotland-winning documentary about the Piper Alpha disaster, offered proof of the power of the real-life stories behind the tragedy and its enduring impact.

Kevin Macdonald, who made State of Play and The Last King of Scotland is perhaps best known for the Oscar-winning documentary One Day In September, which charted events at the 1972 Munich Olympic when a group of Israeli athletes were massacred.

With his Glasgow roots and strong track record over the last two decades it is hard to think of a British filmmaker more suited to attempting the unenviable task of distilling the Lockerbie story into a couple of hours. While expectations are already sky high about the forthcoming sequel to Trainspotting, the prospect about a feature film on the biggest conspiracy of modern times in Scotland is a tantalising one.