WE usually expect to see a Los Angeles backlot staring back at us when settling down to watch a blockbuster, but a surprising number of box office smashes have been made much closer to home over the years.
Though the cast of 1995 film Rob Roy, directed by Scot Michael Caton-Jones, was peppered with Irish, English and American actors, production took place entirely in Scotland. The crew visited remote parts of the Highlands by helicopter in order to capture the authentic Scottish landscape, and were reportedly plagued incessantly by pouring rain and bloodthirsty midges.
Mel Gibson may have offended the entire nation with his attempt at a Scottish accent in Braveheart, but at least the US-based actor was dedicated enough to travel to Scotland for six weeks of continuous filming as William Wallace. What ultimately became the thirteenth highest-grossing film of 1995 may have been written and directed by Americans, but the majority of filming took place right here in bonny Scotland.
It seems Scotland was the place to be for filmmakers in the mid-‘90s but Gibson and Rob Roy director Michael Caton-Jones certainly weren’t the first to take advantage of the country’s picturesque scenery. Filming for 1983 classic comedy-drama Local Hero took place in more than ten different Scottish locations, including Aberdeenshire, Fort William and the Highlands. Even further back in film history, the 1949 Ealing Studios comedy Whisky Galore! was shot on the Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides and - legend has it - took five weeks longer than planned to film due to yet more terrible Scottish weather.
Interestingly (and despite the rain) many movie makers seem to consider Scotland the perfect setting for science fiction. Fans of 2001: A Space Odyssey from 1968 may already know that footage of Stanley Kubrick’s alien planet incorporates distorted shots of the South Harris coastline in the Outer Hebrides. More recently, Cloud Atlas and Ridley Scott’s Prometheus - both sci-fis released in 2012 - were partially filmed in various Scottish locations including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Alloa and the Isle of Skye. Shortly after came the 2013 haunting sci-fi horror Under the Skin starring Scarlett Johansson, which was filmed in Glasgow, Glencoe, and various parts of the west coast.
An impressive number of action films have also had scenes filmed in Scotland, including movies from the ultimate spy franchise – James Bond. In his third Bond film Skyfall (2012), Glencoe featured prominently; Eilean Donan Castle in the western Highlands served as MI6 headquarters when Pierce Brosnan starred as 007 in The World Is Not Enough (1999). More than a decade earlier, former Bond Sean Connery also filmed scenes at the same castle for one of his more bizarre fantasy movies Highlander. Even Christopher Nolan’s most recent Batman film The Dark Knight Rises (2012) takes advantage of the beautiful Highlands scenery when villain Bane’s dramatic aircraft escape takes place in the air above the Cairngorm mountains.
The mid-1970s and early ‘80s was an equally fruitful period for filming in Scotland. Mystery horror The Wicker Man (1973) - considered by fans and critics alike to be one of the best British films of all time – was shot almost entirely in Dumfries and Galloway, with additional scenes taking place in Ayrshire and the Isle of Skye. A short while later Monty Python’s legendary comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) made the most of Scotland’s many castles and filmed on location at Doune Castle, Glen Coe and Castle Stalker near Argyll. Then, in the very early 1980s Chariots of Fire (1981) was released, capturing the sweeping beauty of West Sand beach in St Andrews, as well as some of the town’s legendary Old Course.
Despite endless natural beauty further north, Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital city for a reason, and it’s been the star of some of Scotland’s most celebrated films. Danny Boyle’s movie adaptation of Trainspotting (1996) is perhaps one of the most famous Edinburgh-set movies, although the bulk of filming actually took place in Glasgow. Princes Street and Calton Road are the only real Edinburgh streets to feature, with Rouken Glen Park in Giffnock standing in for the Meadows and Crosslands pub on Glasgow’s Queen Margaret Drive playing host to Begbie’s infamous on-screen tantrum. Arguably the truest film interpretation of Edinburgh on film was actually an animated one in Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist (2010) which perfectly captures the city in the early 1960s, with memorable landmarks like Arthur’s Seat, Jenners and Waverley Station lovingly preserved in Chomet’s memorable style.
One of the most highly publicised cases of a Hollywood film production coming to Scotland has to be that of 2013 zombie action horror film World War Z. Starring Brad Pitt, the filming brought Glasgow to a standstill and transformed the city into downtown Philadelphia - easily done thanks to Glasgow’s grid system and similar architecture. Scotland’s reputation as an all-encompassing film location only increases, with upcoming high profile movie projects like Macbeth (2015) and Victor Frankenstein (2015) also filming scenes here. Macbeth - which will star Michael Fassbender in the lead role - was filmed in both the Highlands and on the Isle of Skye while the star-studded Victor Frankenstein feature Stonehaven’s stunning Dunnottar Castle.