Film review: Stone of Destiny

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1 - HERE'S how you start: pick a story to which the words "underdog", "plucky", "heart-warming" and "uplifting" can easily be applied.

This is otherwise known as "trying to make it a bit like The Full Monty". In Stone of Destiny, it's a group of oppressed Scottish Nationalist students on a mission to boost national pride by stealing the Stone of Scone back from Westminster Abbey.

But it could just as easily be a group of oppressed ship-workers who decide to swim the Channel (On A Clear Day) or a depressed cyclist trying to break a world record (The Flying Scotsman).

Just make sure the story can be simplified enough to turn it into an entirely predictable, against-the-odds comedy-drama without any complex characters or sophisticated sub-plots – you know, the kind of things that were actually in The Full Monty but which filmmakers now seem to think might confuse that mythical mainstream audience that never turns up to these kinds of films anyway. And remember: when the critics say it's bad, defend your film as "unashamedly populist".

2 - MAKE sure the story is parochial enough to convince local funding bodies to pour lots of public money into it. A tip to all you budding producers out there: Scottish Screen is an especially soft touch in this respect. Just ensure the film is set (or can be filmed) in Scotland, has plenty of potential for playing up national stereotypes and, if at all possible, make it so embarrassingly awful that local audiences will want to curl up and die when they see it. That, at least, seems to have been the criteria Stone of Destiny met, with the ultimate crawl-under-your seat moment coming when the news of the Stone of Scone's theft breaks on the radio and a group of cheery Saltire-waving Scots start dancing in the streets of Glasgow.

Of course, you don't need to limit your imagination: if you want to make a Hollywood-backed rip-off of Mad Max and are prepared to put your post-apocalyptic savages into kilts and film a couple of token scenes in Glasgow (even if the majority of the film is shot in South Africa), you'll almost certainly receive the kind of warm welcome Neil Marshall did with Doomsday recently – until audiences get to see the finished film that is.

3 - DON'T let the story's lack of incident stop you from making feeble efforts to ratchet up the excitement level. Breaking into Westminster Abbey to steal a bit of masonry might sound potentially daring (to someone), but there's no getting round the fact that Stone of Destiny's big heist scene revolves around a frantic ten-minute search for a set of car keys that group leader Ian Hamilton (played by Charlie Cox) has dropped.

Other thrill-a-minute moments include: the wacky recon' mission in which our heroes adopt posh English accents to discuss the finer points of Westminster Abbey's oak doors; the scene where practically the entire police force turn up to interrogate Hamilton & Co (prior to even committing their crime) after a sinister English B&B proprietor informs them that "Scottish boys" are in the vicinity. Then there's that high-tension moment when key conspirator Kay Matheson (Kate Mara) wakes up to discover she's got – wait for it – a bit of a cold. A true story it may be, but Stone of Destiny rivals Greyfriars Bobby for having a complete lack of actual drama.

4 - CAST good actors and then have them give rubbish performances. Poor Robert Carlyle and Peter Mullan: so much talent, yet so often they're corralled into making slop like Stone of Destiny. There really isn't much you can do with a script full of patronising platitudes that spell out the film's themes in 72-point bold capital letters. The worst you can say about them is that they agreed to do it in the first place. But having cast them, it is important to ensure they have absolutely nothing worthwhile to sink their teeth into.

The same goes for Brenda Fricker. You don't want an Oscar-winning actress to accidentally add some credibility to the film, so make sure you cast them in the role of a housekeeper and barely give them a line of dialogue. On a related note, don't worry if all the name Scottish actors are out of your price range when it comes to finding the handsome young lead; there will always be some up-and-coming English actor – in this case, Charlie Cox – willing to do a bad Ewan McGregor impression in exchange for the chance to star in a film.

5 - DON'T be embarrassed about saving money by doubling up your locations. There's absolutely nothing wrong with using the same street to film daylight scenes in Glasgow and night scenes in London. It won't look at all like Stone of Destiny has suddenly jumped location at a crucial moment, and it's doubtful anyone will really care that the same part of the University of Glasgow is used as both the University of Glasgow and Westminster Abbey.

6 - REMEMBER to set the cheeky chappie tone early. Jaunty music is a good start, but anachronistic ska-punk versions of Scottish tunes are even better, especially when you're making a movie set in 1950.

7 - INCLUDE at least one line that will unintentionally sum up how local audiences might feel after watching the film. At one point in Stone of Destiny, Ian Hamilton is analysing what he feels is the problem with beaten-down Scots in 1950, telling his pal that, essentially, "We're ashamed to be Scottish." Yep, that'll do it.

* Stone of Destiny has its second screening at the Edinburgh International Film Festival tonight, at Cineworld at 6:15pm.