Premiere brings Stone of Destiny home to dying son of 'King John'

THERE will be no red carpet, no crowds and no camera flashlights for this most unusual and poignant movie opening night.

The audience for this exclusive screening of Stone Of Destiny will consist of just five people – including a Hollywood director and dying elder statesman – sitting in a suburban home in Scotland.

But the event is likely to generate more emotion and meaning for Sir Neil MacCormick and his special guests than a year's worth of gala openings.

MacCormick is housebound with inoperable cancer and this could be his only chance to see his late father, John, one of the founders of the Scottish National Party, portrayed on screen by Robert Carlyle.

The 67-year-old and his wife, Flora, will be joined at his home in Morningside, Edinburgh, by Charles Martin Smith, the director, who was given permission by the studio to print a one-off DVD for the screening.

Also in attendance will be Ian Hamilton and his wife, Jeannette. Hamilton was one of four Glasgow students who broke into Westminster Abbey and spirited away the Stone of Destiny. His book on the episode has been turned into the film, which opens across the country on Friday. MacCormick, a former Nationalist member of the European Parliament, will sit down the previous night and watch his father – a legendary orator nicknamed 'King John' – come back to life on TV.

Sitting in the lounge of his home, MacCormick told Scotland on Sunday: "It will be fascinating to see Robert Carlyle's portrayal. The particular roles with which Robert Carlyle has been most strongly associated in the popular mind are different in character yet, when you see him, even in the stills, he has something of the same presence and something of the same alertness of look.

"Of course I loved my father very much. But I will be looking at it in context. I won't be saying: 'Oh, here's a film about my dad and there's the Stone in it as well.' More the other way round – here's the film of this remarkable event, how will my father's part in it appear as portrayed by Robert Carlyle?

"I am interested in the whole story. I was quite tied up in it as a child at the time."

MacCormick was told he had inoperable cancer shortly after retiring from Edinburgh University this year.

"I'm very good mentally, very alert," he said. "One of the things that this particular cancer does is it weakens you. I just find it physically difficult to get to places."

He has a black eye and large plaster on his head after a fall last weekend, but remains sanguine about his condition and is looking forward to the film. "I think I'm going to enjoy it and I know I will be fascinated, whether I enjoy it or not."

Charles Martin Smith flew in from North America at the end of last week, with his DVD copy in his hand luggage. Smith, who is immediately familiar as the little, bespectacled character from such films as American Graffiti and The Untouchables, said: "I was terribly sorry to hear about his health problems."

Smith said the students who "retrieved" the legendary Scottish Coronation Stone from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1950 "idolised" John MacCormick.

"It's really only because of him that this ever happened, so I am just delighted to be able to show it to his son," he said.

Smith explained why he had to get permission from the film company to make a DVD.

He said: "They are very careful about making discs, with all the piracy problems. They don't like to do it. But in this case, absolutely."

It is just as well Smith had the DVD in his hand luggage, as his hold baggage went missing at Heathrow.

MacCormick, who was professor of Public Law at Edinburgh University and received his knighthood for services to academe, said he vividly remembered the day the Stone was taken, though he was only nine.

"My father came through and said we had better listen to the wireless news and the top story was about the Stone of Destiny. Always on Christmas Day we had the big extended family round in our house, aunts, uncles and cousins and … there was great cheering."

Only years later did his mother tell him of her reaction to the news. In the privacy of the kitchen she told her husband: "I know that you are in it up to your neck. You have four children under the age of 12 and you are a lawyer in Glasgow.

"What are you going to do if you end up in jail over this? What's more, I know who got you involved in this. It's that Ian Hamilton." McCormick only learned that his father had been involved from the outset when he read his father's book The Flag In The Wind.