Stone of Destiny
Charles Martin Smith / UK/Canada / 2008
Itís undeniably entertaining to see a piece of nationalistic jingoism from the other side. More so when said piece of flag waving is cynically directed by an American whose sole connection to the country in question would appear to be having acted with the inestimable Sean Connery many years ago in The Untouchables. And then thereís the insidious fact that the lead actor in a film about Scottish pride is played by a bloke from LondonÖ
Stone of Destiny is a by numbers caper film with a nationalistic edge. Based upon the true story of how in 1950 a group of students pilfered the symbolic block from Westminster Abbey itís all about symbols with the characters literally restoring one to back north of the border. For those who donít know the Stone was originally used to invest Scottish kings until it was pinched by Edward I in the thirteenth century.
Tellingly the non-violence has to be verbally underlined here. Early on Charlie Coxís character, Ian Hamilton (the ringleader), when debating about the lengths heíd go to, scoffs at armed resistance. This is nationalism reduced to a student prank. So even for the aggressively pro-union the packaging of intense passions being packaged makes one queasy. Later when Hamilton hides in Westminster Abbey he is discovered by a guard doing the nightly rounds. The response an audience might reasonably expect here is for Hamilton to knock the guy out. Of course he canít! Attractive as the Great Train Robbers version could be this film canít go there and have tragic consequences. Incidentally a similar train related moment in the far superior Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford reveals James as the monster he is. Luckily history is on side in Stone of Destiny to prevent any messy complications of nationalism but maybe a glimmer of the lengths the guys would have gone might have aided the show.
Part of the deranged joy here is that itís a good natured romp which just happens to be made for an audience other than this English critic. Normally the UK is depicted as a nation of bumbling toffs, here weíre the enemy. This must be similar to the feeling Middle Eastern countries probably get when they settle down to enjoy the latest blockbuster only to find that the bad guys are Arabs. Again. With the rise of China maybe a little payback to the US is imminent.
The history here is simplistic at best with no real reason expressed concerning why the Covenant movement are so keen about their own patch. Also as the film is set in the immediate post-war period the entire country should be in tatters and depressed by rationing (compare to the joy in the Mike Leigh film Vera Drake, set at a similar time, where the principles rub their hands with glee at the prospect of bread and dripping) but thereís little of this happening here. Instead Scotland is a country of sweeping mountains and parochial cities and towns. Glasgow is an idyllic university town with nary a shipyard or factory in sight. As the characters cross the border by car into England itís the most picturesque lonely valley ever. Certainly a far cry from the harrowing stretch of the M6 north of Carlisle.
As a hokey yarn Stone of Destiny is a minor piece of grit on the road to Scottish Nationalism. As popular entertainment for an unsure United Kingdom in the 21st century itís unsettling and at best wildly misguided.