Robert Burns film still no closer to being made

Robert Burns: Film makers fear portraying bard in wrong light. Picture: Reuters
Robert Burns: Film makers fear portraying bard in wrong light. Picture: Reuters
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THE best laid schemes of movie makers to bring the Immortal Bard to the silver screen have gone awry again.

A big-budget version of the life and times of Robert Burns – first announced in 2004 – appears to be no closer to being made despite the involvement of Scots actor Gerard Butler and a director with a solid pedigree.

Butler, star of hits such as 300 and Phantom of the Opera, talked up the chances of a film of Burn’s exploits in 2010 when it was being described as a Scottish Shakespeare in Love, in which Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes successfully took the English playwright to a global audience.

Actress Julia Stiles was to star as the main love interest in the “sexy romance” in the role of Jean Armour, Burns’s wife. Vadim Jean, who has made acclaimed movies, such as Leon The Pig Farmer and One More Kiss, was the man behind the camera.

Scottish stars Brian Cox and John Hannah were also lined up for the £5 million movie and the script was being penned by Alan Sharp, the man who wrote the script for Rob Roy.

But Mr Jean admitted to The Scotsman that Burns is still in pre-production almost a decade after the project was announced. Other attempts to bring the Scottish Bard to cinema audiences have also floundered.

Mr Jean said: “Gerry [Butler] and I are still trying to make the film but waiting for a re-write on the script,” he said. “We can’t make the film until the script is right.”

Other attempts to dramatise the life of Scotland’s national poet have failed to make it to the screen, including a project by Ecosse Films with a script written by Daniel Boyle, who has adapted a number of Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels for ITV and also wrote TV series Hamish McBeth.

Another attempt involving the actor David Hayman also bombed and even though Hollywood A-Lister Johnny Depp was also discussed in relation to the role, he later said he thought it would upset Scots to see an American actor playing the bard.

Actor and director Gerry Mulgrew, who recently adapted Burns’s classic poem Tam o’Shanter for the stage, said a Burns movie was a difficult project to get off the ground.

“To make a film you need money,” he said. “There isn’t any money in Scotland so it has to come from somewhere else. It’s a difficult sell in some quarters.”

Only one Burns movie, an indie film called Red Rose made for about £64,000 by Palm Tree Productions, which explored political themes, has made it to completion in recent years. It was screened at the Monaco International Film Festival and is available on DVD.

One of its directors, Mairi Sutherland, said at the time that many film-makers were put off Burns as a subject: “I think the problem is that everyone is scared of touching the Burns legacy,” she said. “He’s an icon and, like Shakespeare for the English and Washington for the Americans, there’s a cultural fear of being accused of misinterpreting the legend.”

Speaking in the past about the project, 43-year-old Butler said: “I’m sure, at the end, you can never keep everybody happy, especially the Scots – I hate to say this – if you’re dealing with one of their national heroes. No matter what way you do it, there’s no way you’ll keep everybody happy. So I’ll expect some praise and I’m sure I’ll get a lot of abuse.”