Brian Ferguson: Scottish film and television is production is on a 20-year high

Blackness Castle has seen a major surge in visits because of its role as a location in Outlander ... but now it also stars in the biggest movie ever filmed in Scotland.
Blackness Castle has seen a major surge in visits because of its role as a location in Outlander ... but now it also stars in the biggest movie ever filmed in Scotland.
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It has been a long time coming for anyone with an interest in Scotland’s film and television industries, but I have detected a definite sense of optimism in the air.

For a country which has so long felt the poor relation when it comes to securing a slice of the lucrative business in the UK, it is in danger of starting to get a spring in its step. New figures showing an almost doubling in the value of spending on major productions in the space of just two years speak for themselves.

Much of that was down to filming during 2017 of three major blockbusters, Avengers: Infinity War, Outlaw King and Mary Queen of Scots, the latter two of which are still to be released.

News of a gala premiere in Edinburgh next month of Outlaw King came just weeks after Netflix’s Robert the Bruce blockbuster landed the opening slot at the Toronto International Film Festival. The prospect of stars like Chris Pine and Florence Pugh on the red carpet is tantalising enough, but another could be on the cards ahead of the January release of Mary Queen of Scots.

Much of the current optimism stems from the knowledge of the number of high-quality productions that are have already wrapped filming. It is suddenly hard to keep up. Among the most-anticipated films are Wild Rose, which charts a Glaswegian singer’s dreams of making it has a country singer in Nashville, Beats, the rave-era drama adapted from Kieran Hurley’s play of the same name, and Keepers, the psychological thriller about a group of isolated lighthouse keepers starring Gerard Butler and Peter Mullan.

Big-name TV dramas in the can include The Cry, which Jenna Coleman filmed in Glasgow and Australia, and crime drama The Victim, which Kelly Macdonald and John Hannah shot in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Greenock. Projects in development include a film about the iconic Scottish record label Postcard and Glasgow-based Synchronicity Films securing the rights to one of the year’s hit novels, The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

If all that was not enough, who could have predicted that Scottish actors - Richard Madden and Stuart Bowman - would be starring in the year’s biggest TV drama? No-one is claiming The Bodyguard as Scottish, but there are more opportunities emerging for Scots in front of and behind the camera, including director Jon Baird, whose Laurel and Hardy biopic, which stars Steve Coogan and John C Reilly, will be released in January. Other notable on-screen examples include Morven Christie, from the BBC’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Ordeal by Innocence, and Laura Fraser, from The Loch and The Missing, who is about to appear in Beats.

You almost have to return to the mid-1990s - when Shallow Grave and Trainspotting competed for headlines with Braveheart and Rob Roy, and Taggart was in its heyday - to find a comparable era.

Much of the credit for the turnaroud must go to the success of Outlander, the historical fantasy whose production base has been a former warehouse in Cumbernauld since 2013. A run of blockbuster films made in Scotland was frankly unthinkable back then.

But Outlander has helped re-awaken interest in using it as a backdrop for films and TV dramas.

The potential to attract more productions of its scale has undoubtedly played a big part in persuading the Scottish Government to double the budget for the screen sector to the current £20 million.

With other initiatives like BBC Scotland’s much-anticipated new channel and the opening of a Scottish National Film and Television School there is a growing impression that there is finally a solid foundation on which to build.