THE first self-proclaimed “Scottish referendum horror” is to go on release just weeks ahead of September’s vote.
White Settlers is a thriller about an English couple, Ed and Sarah, who swap the London rat race for an idyllic property in the Borders. But they face resentment from masked locals who subject them to a terrifying ordeal on their first night.
The film’s title is a reference to the pejorative name given to well-off incomers who move into an area. During the 1990s, small nationalist factions, such as Settler Watch, claimed their national identity was being eroded by English immigration.
White Settlers was written by Ian Fenton, who was brought up in the Borders, directed by Simeon Halligan, and stars Scottish actress and model Pollyanna McIntosh.
Mr Halligan said: “The script had come up a few years ago, and those issues were always at the back of the film. That was what he wanted to write his script about – it’s not a political film; primarily, it’s a suspense thriller, it’s more like a horror film. But the background to why it’s going on has a political context.”
He claimed the timing of its release was a “happy coincidence”. But he said he was comfortable about any potential criticism about the controversial subject matter.
He said: “No matter what you put out there, you’re always going to get some criticism. It’s up to people what they think the argument the film is putting across.
“The writer and I both have our different attitudes in our feelings about the referendum and the content of the film, and hopefully that will come across when people see it.”
It will premiere at Fright Fest in London next month, and go on general release in September.
Mr Fenton, who lives in England, said that he was inspired to write the script by an experience during 2003, when he attempted to buy a home in the Borders after time away from the area.
He said: “I started looking in the area. I was at a wedding of a relation of mine, and he said that they were having to rent a place to live because they could not afford to buy anywhere because people like me, we were buying up all the cheap housing around there.
“I thought I was on both sides of that camp as I could totally understand where this guy was coming from.”
He said the film was not written in the context of the referendum, but it did touch a nerve about identity at the time and it was “really raw right now”.
Mr Fenton admitted “context was everything”, and that he was slightly anxious about how it would be viewed against the backdrop of the referendum debate.
Both writer and director said they had yet to be convinced by what they had heard about the arguments for independence.
Mr Halligan said that one of themes raised in the film was about intolerance. “There is a sense that there is an intolerance or a lack of understanding from both sides,” he said. “So it isn’t totally one-sided. There is a sense that the English in the story, whether consciously or unconsciously, are taking the Scottish for granted and the characters for granted. They take things that have been there for many years and don’t think twice about it.”
While it was intended as entertainment, he hoped people would think about the wider questions over intolerance.
A Yes Scotland spokesman: “Scotland is a very welcoming, friendly, diverse and tolerant country and will continue to be so after a Yes vote.”