First look: Brian Cox plays Ian Rankin's Rebus in new short film set in lockdown Edinburgh

Hollywood star Brian Cox has transformed himself into the grizzled detective John Rebus for a one-off short film set in lockdown Edinburgh.

Brian Cox has played Rebus for the first time for the National Theatre of Scotland's short film.
Brian Cox has played Rebus for the first time for the National Theatre of Scotland's short film.

Written by author Ian Rankin, it shows the character complaining about being imprisoned in his own home due to his fragile health, railing against the idea of keeping in touch with anyone via "Zoom," bemoaning the fact he is unable to go to the pub and pining to spend more time with his long-time colleague Siobhan Clarke.

Rankin, who recently finished work on the 23rd Rebus novel, wrote the script for the short film for a National Theatre of Scotland project uniting leading writers with actors and theatre-makers.

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The 10-minute film sheds intriguing new on light on Rebus's true feelings for Clarke, which he has only begun to realise because contact between them has been so restricted during lockdown.

John Rebus: The Lockdown Blues, which is set entirely in the kitchen of Rebus's tenement flat in Marchmont, was filmed by Cox at his home in New York State, where is currently in lockdown himself.

Rankin, who sat in on rehearsals with Cox and director Cora Bissett, said the actor even "dressed the set" of his own kitchen with dog food, a map and a bottle of whisky to make it look more like Rebus's flat.

In the film, Rebus, who has been grappling with the impact of an incurable lung disease in the recent books, admits he would be willing to gamble with his own health for a visit to a pub due to his lonely existence, with only his dog, Brillo, and his record collection as his “cellmates.”

He says: “I'd risk it, right it now, even at my age and in my condition. Cans and bottles are just not the same. I'd have said that I my not the most sociable type, but a wee bit of chat, or even unspoken proximity to a few other human beings who are as interested in the bottom of their glass as you are. Instead of which, Siobhan rings the bell and leaves a bag at the door. I'm supposed to wait 30 seconds before I fetch it, by which time she's half-way down the stairs, so we have a bit of a chat, socially distancing, while I check the bag: ready meals, milk, dog food, the basics, a newspaper, plus a few cans or bottles, though she tells me I shouldn't, I'm supposed to be looking after myself.

“The government says I am high risk so I suppose I must be. That's my age plus the COPD. The last thing my long-suffering lungs need is the virus or a wee touch of pneumonia."

The next Rebus book, A Song for the Dark Times, which is due out in October, is set in pre-lockdown Edinburgh.

Rankin said he was approached by the National Theatre of Scotland to write the script for a short film on Rebus in lockdown before he knew Cox was involved.

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The author said: "I was actually already thinking about how Rebus would be dealing with lockdown, as so many fans were asking me on social media.

"I'd literally just finished the new book, which is set last summer.

"I didn't want to write a whole book about Rebus in lockdown but the idea of a five or 10-minute play seemed just about right.

"The nice thing about it was that I knew it didn't need any action, murder, puzzles or mysteries. It was really just going to be a reflective piece about one guy in his late sixties with health issues in a stairwell in Edinburgh.

"What you see is what you get. It's how I imagine Rebus would be dealing with it and the answer to that is not hugely well.

"The opening line is about him missing the pub. Like me, he is missing it immensely. He has not got a network of family and friends he can fall back on.”

In the film, Rebus confesses that he felt a “shot of adrenalin” every time Siobhan Clarke rang his doorbell to drop off shopping for him and is considering finally telling her “how much she means to me.”

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Rankin added: "Rebus is dependent on Siobhan Clarke, which brings him to the realisation that she means a lot more to him than has been evident maybe on the page in the past.

"I don't think it's a physical thing. I've never thought of the two of them ever becoming lovers or being attracted to each other that way.

"But there is love. It is like a familial love. She is family to him, almost. That's how he feels about her. He feels not only gratitude but an immense love.

“He really cares for her in the way that a close family member would care for another close family member. He normally sees her more than anybody else in his life."

Cox, who won a Golden Globe earlier this year for his lead role in the media dynasty drama Succession, has followed in the footsteps of John Hannah, Ken Stott, Charlie Lawson and Ron Donachie in playing Rebus in the various stage, screen and radio incarnations.

Rankin added: "When the National Theatre of Scotland got in touch I thought: 'Brilliant, I can get down on paper how Rebus is dealing with this.'

"Having done it, they then said they were thinking of asking Brian Cox. I think he said yes straight away, which was amazing.

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"The one thing I had to add was because Brian has a beard at the moment because of the role he plays in Succession. He told me he couldn't really shave it off. If Rebus was ever going to grow a beard this was the time to do it.

"Going by the reaction on social media, people have been blown away by it.

"It brings an extra dimension to Rebus. It's more introspective than we get him in the books. There are moments of introspection in the books - they are not extended monologues.

"He has got a physicality to him. You can tell that in the past he could have been a big menacing guy but right now his health is at stake and he is beginning to realise that he is mortal and is not a superman. He has been a big macho guy but but even he can't out-macho a virus like this.

"I've always liked Brian as an actor and always thought he had the right kind of physical shape and face to do Rebus justice. But I think he was always too busy when he got to the stage of doing Hollywood movies. I've met him a few times over the years and have told him he'd be great as Rebus. Finally, after 30 years, I've got my man."

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