Friday, October 31, 2008

Stone of Destiny: A Review

I saw the film last night, but I saw the Stone of Destiny in August when I was in Scotland. It was pretty ordinary though, and did not live up to its name, leave alone the legend! I mean, the stone. The movie was all right! They say that whoever sits on that stone would become the King of Scotland and for centuries the scottish clans fought over its possession until invaded by the English, after which the stone was taken away to Westminster Abbey for use in coronation of the British monarchs.

But the stone is nothing fancy you know, just a slab of dented sandstone. Ugly and unseemly. Don't know how Kings even agreed to sit on it! One would think the monarchy preferred extravagant thrones to signify their importance. Such as it is, the movie is a story of an actual theft of the Stone from England by four scottish students and the resultant surge in the nationalist pride of Scotland.

For centuries, the Scottish people were denied their rightful place in history. For centuries they were docked along with their southern neighbours and called 'British' against their own will. The movie opens with the stunning Scottish landscape and its emerald highlands descending into Glasgow, the center of the political turmoil in the middle of the twentieth century when Scottish nationalist leaders were clamouring for autonomy, their own Parliament and an identity. An inspired student Ian Hamilton (Charlie Cox) plots to boost the revolution with a symbol, taking inspiration from Gandhi, as the movie puts it. He teams up with his best friend for an elaborate plan to steal the Stone of Destiny - the ultimate symbol of Scottish identity, even making a trip to London to sketch the exact detail. However, his friend Billy (Billy Boyd) backs out from the scheme at the last moment worried about his own future. With the help of a powerful politician and a bunch of students that Ian just met, a new plan is hatched to steal the Stone from the Abbey.

The tattered bunch with a fifty pound budget lands in London, but their first plan fails owing to an unsuspecting night watchman patrolling the Abbey. A new plan is formed soon after, but not before there are cracks in the motivation of the guys and the girl in the group Kay (Kate Mara) falls badly ill. Once the group takes a secret ballot on their willingness to go ahead with their plan, the real adventure begins. With a plan for a Highland Raid on the Abbey and the clumsiest of the burglaries the group gives several heart-stopping moments for the viewers. Among other things Police turn up at their hideout and warn the group to leave London because of their suspicious movements. They still go ahead with their plan, but the doors don't open until broken with blows that can be heard a couple of streets away! When they finally get to the Stone, it breaks into two! The drag the pieces along the floor but not before dropping the keys of their getaway car and a watch also gets left behind leaving a clue about the burglars! The final straw comes in the shape of a unsuspecting patrolling Cop who orders the waiting car away, leaving two burglars inside with the bigger part of the stone not stolen yet!!

The director does a good job of keeping the crowd on the edge of their seats with the twists in the story and goes about it in a very light-hearted way. There is no unnecessary overhang of nationalism or chest-beating usually associated with nationalistic movies. And there is no melodrama either, portraying the English as villains! The narration is purely one-sided without deploying any antagonists other than a sign board in a Glasgow pub calling it 'North England', which gets corrected to 'Scotland' after the nation awakens to the significance of the burglary!

And the 'burglars' too don't don the role of war heroes until arrested. They come across as just a bunch of kids out for an adventure, each with a reason of his own, and none with a proper perspective of the perils of the action except the leader Ian Hamilton. You compare this to Rang De Basanti, which doubtless is a good movie in the Indian context, and you will find how things can be made differently but generate the same sense of short-lived righteousness.

The movie is a part of the alternate movie scene of Britain, as described by the festival organisers in Moscow. But it had as much commercial appeal and production values as any other medium budget movie. The technical quality too was good. Though the acting was a bit below par and so was the overall narrative style which sort of undermined the significance of a historic moment for a nation, I thought the movie was definitely worth a watch. Atleast I could think of Scotland again and may be revived my plans to hit the turf!

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