A REPLICA medieval fort under construction in the heart of Scotland could be set to kick-start the country's film industry.
Duncarron Fort in Stirlingshire has been earmarked as a location for a planned biopic of Columba, the "warrior-saint" who brought Christianity to Scotland.
Gladiator actor Russell Crowe, who visited the site yesterday, said he would promote it in Hollywood, adding: "This has definitely got film set written all over it."
For seven years, film warrior Charlie Allan, together with a group of fellow "combat performers" and motorcycle enthusiasts, has pursued the dream of building the full-size replica of a medieval fort in a rolling river valley outside Falkirk.
His goal is to make it a prime location for film-makers trying to recreate the look and feel of ancient Britain.
Yesterday, the Bafta-winning Scottish director Norman Stone pledged to use the "wonderful opportunities" at the site if a planned film on the story of Saint Columba gets the go-ahead. "We need to have that tribal Britain feel about things," said Mr Stone, who has actor Jeremy Irons backing his project.
At a cost of about 400,000, Mr Allen, his wife Malin, and other volunteers have shaped an earth mound from forest land in the Carron Valley and topped it with a giant winding wooden wall of tree trunks in a recreation of a motte-and-bailey fort.
• Warrior who came with a message
Mr Allen has played war-like strongmen in films including Gladiator and The Eagle, as well as supplying teams of combat performers as trained extras in battle scenes.
With planning permission now in place for the log homes of a medieval village inside the fort, he hopes to make the site a ready-made film location, as well as a venue for events and even weddings.
Crowe met the Allens on the set of Gladiator and has remained friends ever since. Last year, the actor arranged for a 60,000 battering ram made for his film Robin Hood to be shipped there, and yesterday he made a pilgrimage to the site on his first visit to Scotland.
"They have worked on the right scale, they haven't tried to make it small and economically efficient in that way, they've made it to what it would be in terms of housing a couple of hundred people," he said.
"I'm sure, the next time I talk to Ridley Scott, and this comes up in conversation he will get very interested in the idea." Last week, Crowe Tweeted First Minister Alex Salmond, urging his support for Duncarron, and alerting his 200,000 Twitter followers about it.
"I just think it's an incredible thing the way they have done this.This represents a massive amount of man hours and a massive commitment on behalf of all the people involved. What it obviously needs, now that they have broken the back of it and done the hardest part of it, now it needs a governmental acknowledgement that they've really come along way."
A genealogist hired by the Allens has unearthed Crowe's Scottish roots - with his mother apparently a distant descendant of the Weymss family of Fife, through a great-grandfather who emigrated to New Zealand.
Mr Allen said the actor had suggested the Duncarron site could be used as the setting for a Robin Hood sequel, with "every chance" he could make a film there.
"He's pretty much our promoter, he's out there letting people know about us."
The film did not fare well with critics, but Crowe said: "In the research I did for Robin Hood … there's a lot of strands that connect him to Scotland."