SINCE hitting screens in 2014, U.S television series Outlander has brought Scottish history and Scottish actor Sam Heughan into the spotlight.
Ahead of the release of the second series, we spoke to Sam about the ‘Outlander effect’, his favourite places to film and his knowledge of Scottish history.
Outlander might not be a phrase Scottish audiences are all too familiar with. Despite being filmed on Scottish soil and based largely on real events, the vast majority of its fans are on the other side of the world in countries including Japan, Brazil and Australia.
Based on a series of books by Diana Gabaldon, the show follows the story of Claire Randall, a WWII nurse who is transported from 1945 to 1743 through Scottish standing stones. With her husband Frank still firmly in the 20th century, she ends up falling in love with 18th century highlander Jamie Fraser. The pair are then faced with the Jacobite rebellion and the bloody battles that followed.
“It’s a history adventure romance with time travel”, Sam explains. “It’s hard to pigeonhole but it’s a great story with a lot of central characters. It’s based in reality and in history with this time travel element.”
Despite its premise being rooted in fantasy, its stunning backdrops and locations are the all very real Scottish castles and glens.
Preston Mill, the doocot in East Lothian, Falkland, the Fife village, and Blackness Castle in West Lothian were all featured in the first series and have experienced a much-welcome boost in visitor numbers. Blackness Castle in particular seen a 31 per cent rise in figures from 2014-2015.
It’s not only viewers who are enjoying the opportunity to discover some of Scotland’s scenery, Sam counts himself lucky to be able to film in his homeland.
“It’s been fantastic because I’ve been able to rediscover my country. Recently we’ve been up in Stirling a lot and it’s just beautiful there - the castle is so picturesque. We’ve driven past it a lot but I’ve never actually been to Stirling and with the storms, we’ve had some amazing sun rises and sunsets - everyone thought it was the northern lights.
“It’s so magnificent to watch the sun come up when you’re standing on a moor with hundreds of highlanders dressed for battle. I’m very lucky. There’s definitely an interest in Scotland and what happened here. I think the rest of the world are fascinated by our history and it’s nice to be able to bring Scotland and our culture and music to the screen.”
While writing the Outlander novels, author Gabaldon had yet to actually visit Scotland, nonetheless, the books are said to provide a highly authentic depiction of life in the mid-18th century and breathe new life into old Scottish legends.
“I think there’s an inherent understanding”, Sam says of his own knowledge of Scottish history. “I knew the rough background and the central characters like Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Battle of Culloden.
“I didn’t know the ins and outs but researching and working on the show has given me a real understanding of our history. I think it’s really interesting that issues like independence and the union are still being talked about. It’s fascinating to be shooting at a time which feels really exciting for Scotland.”
Season two will pick back up with Claire and Jamie after they have decided to attempt to change history by stopping the Jacobite rebellion and preventing the slaughter on Culloden Moor. Rumour has it the show will be saying goodbye to the muddy Scottish landscapes as the characters travel to France for half of the series.
“We’ve been shooting up to Battle of Culloden which has been really exciting”, Sam says.
“It’s the culmination of our characters battle and fight. The central character is from the future and she knows that this highland culture and clans are going to get wiped out so they do everything in their power to try and stop it but as we get to Culloden it seems less and less likely that we’ll be able to change the future.”
The release of the new series is likely to bring a new wave of the Outlander effect to the country as fans get another insight into the Scottish landscape and its rich history.