Cult Movie Column - Restless Natives

This month, Scottish comedy with a political twist.

Feature by Alec McLeod | 15 Jul 2006
If you think of Scottish film in the Eighties, the one name that will probably spring to mind is Bill Forsyth, but he wasn't the only one dealing in parochial whimsy at the time. In 1986, Ninian Dunnett's screenplay about a pair of Highland highwaymen got backed by a one-off initiative by Lloyd's bank and 'Restless Natives' was born.

While still having the elements of Forsyth's films that now seem twee, such as jokes your granny would laugh at told by nicely-spoken grown-ups and all-knowing kids, 'Restless Natives' had a bit more to say about the political scene at the time. Thatcher had just won a general election in which the majority of Scots had voted Labour, and the film's main characters Vince and Ronnie, hungry for work and action, decide to rob coaches full of rich English and American tourists visiting historical sites such as Glencoe.

The film was clearly equating the contemporary climate to that of Rob Roy's day, when the English King George was also forced upon a Scottish population and demanded higher taxes from them as well as submission. It was at that point that Rob also took to robbing coaches to support his clan, although perhaps without the strange methods used by this film's modern counterparts. Working in a joke shop, they have clown and wolfman masks as disguises, and a gun that sprays a homemade mace containing every kind of powder they could find. The image of these two riding around Scotland on a motorbike being chased by inept Police and a vengeful American G-Man (a boo-hiss Ned Beatty) is one that captures the spirit of the film; mocking the establishment, but doing so to entertain, while also making some money at the same time.

As with any self-respecting cult movie there are cameos to spot, such as King Theoden himself, Bernard Hill, playing Friell's dad; Mel Smith as a schmoozing crim; and director Bryan Forbes turns up at the start with wife Nanette Newman, her of a hundred Fairy Liquid ads, looking very lost as an English family on holiday. It's young star Friell that is still a recognizable face, having appeared since in films such as 'Trainspotting' and the ill-fated 'The Priest and The Pirate', an uber-obscure Scottish sci-fi that was ambitious in the one respect that anyone thought that it could or should be made.

Finally re-issued late last year, 'Restless Natives' can now be purchased with your - hopefully - legally-gotten gains, rather than the previous method of relying on someone to copy their dodgy VHS they taped off late-night Channel 4 in '96. Either way, worth the hassle just to see Maggie's head on a big pile of shit.
Dir: Michael Hoffman
Stars: Vincent Friell, Joe Mullaney, Robert Urquhart
Year of Release: 1985
Cert: PG