In coming years it’ll be better if we don’t use the term ‘British film’ at all. This isn’t a political suggestion, it’s merely expedient. Scotland has its own film business and it always has, and the little-guy versus the big-guy is such a theme of golden era of British film, that we may forget how well it plays in Scotland.
Think of Local Hero — it’s the Scots here who provide that little guy role, and it just isn’t imaginable seeing the same tale told with the English, or the French as the colonised locale. The Scots certainly didn’t invent this role, but we’re prime for it, and love playing it too, and that’s one of the deep pleasures of
Laxdale Hall is in fact Passport to Pimlico and The Titfield Thunderbolt, with Whisky Galore thrown over it. It has the same theme, the most enjoyable characters and is shot in beautiful bonny Scotland. It’s truly a wee cracker. If you accept that there are 17 Ealing comedies (Wikipedia for the sake of argument) then you’ll see that while only two are set in Scotland, virtually all feature the same motif: the smaller community triumphs over the larger, with moral high ground, common sense.
Prunella Scales' first film role, Laxdale Hall (1953)
Highlanders taking Sassenachs to the cleaners is a popular theme too. Romance is in the air for the blessedly young Fulton McKay and Prunella Scales. Of the two, it’s Fulton Mackay who seems the more removed from his elder self, the one we knew best from Porridge, or Fraggle Rock. You must see Prunella Scales however, in her first film role. She plays a teacher, a lifetime away from Sybil Fawlty, but I am not sure of her Scots accent.
It is certainly true, as Brian Pendreigh suggests in his introduction to the Laxdale Hall booklet, that had Laxdale been an Ealing comedy it would be plenty better known today than it is. Laxdale Hall was made by Group 3 however, a short lived production company that was set up to make movies with public money. Laxdale was shot on the Applecross peninsula, and it’s this location shooting that gives the movie the quality it does, that and the fact that many of the actors here used had come from the Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow.
The Pass of The Cattle, the Bealach na Ba, in Laxdale Hall (1953)
... it's still an awesome cycle or drive today.
For anyone that knows the Applecross peninsula, Laxdale Hall is essential viewing as it has some great photography of the road known as the Pass of the Cattle — the Bealach na Ba.
Brian Pendreigh also quotes Forsyth Hardy’s book Scotland in Film, which states that Laxdale Hall was ignored by the London critics, but was a huge hit in Scotland, and that it ran for months in Inverness. There was also a North American release, featuring an obligatory name change — so just like Whisky Galore! became Tight Little Island for the US market, Laxdale Hall also had a drink related tie-in title, which was predictably Scotch on the Rocks — although Americans must have been somewhat bemused or disappointed that there was no drinking or whisky in Laxdale Hall.
Young love for Fulton Mackay and Prunella Scales
Lucky us to have Panamint Cinema, based in West Lothian (panamint.co.uk). In terms of extras, this DVD could not be surpassed. It’s a joy to see a film like Laxdale Hall at any time, but when it comes with a book of still images, and an excellent booklet and essay, the pie is truly sweetened for any buff. I couldn’t believe my luck.
The opening shot of Whitehall shows scaffolding around Big Ben, surely an unusual sight. Within, the Scottish Affairs Committee discusses a potential outbreak of anarchy in the Highlands. The story has some base in reality in that the locale in question — Applecross doubles for Laxdale in the shooting — there really was a problem getting there by car.
The Pass of the Cattle — any Scots adventurer knows it — must have been one of the last roads in Britain to be modernised. The comic idea perpetuated in this scene is that from the safe and comfortable seat of government, it is not possible to manage the unconformity of the outlying regions. It’s a joke that goes back to Gogol’s The Government Inspector.
Applecross doubling as Laxdale
The substory in Laxdale Hall is the poaching, this being another Scottish cliché. Interestingly however, it’s the urban Glaswegians who are carrying out industrial-scale poaching in Laxdale, the local poacher being a tolerated and even admired figure. The poachers, also like the government officials, are to be defeated and ridiculed by the locals. Neither the two female members of this cast are Scots (Prunella Scales and Kathleen Ryan) but of those remaining there are a surprising number of much adored Scots within:
Do look out for Rikki Fulton
One cannot defend oneself against an unleashed army from moral high ground, especially if they are canny Scots. Ye’ll always faw fer their charims.