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   Source:  New Statesman & Society, May 26, 1995 v8 n354 p23(1).
    Title:  Rob Roy._(movie reviews)
   Author:  Lizzie Francke
 Subjects:  Motion pictures - Reviews
   People:  Caton-Jones, Michael
            Neeson, Liam
            Lange, Jessica
Rev Grade:  B
  Magazine Collection:  79E2528
Electronic Collection:  A17156386
                   RN:  A17156386

Full Text COPYRIGHT Statesman and Nation Publishing Company Ltd. (UK) 1995

There is something very earthy about Rob Roy - and it is not just the vast and
mottled Highland landscape. It is one of those films that seems fixated on
bodily processes as the Trossachs' folk hero, played by Liam Neeson, and his
band of kilted men all too frequently mark their ground - a sure signal that
they are establishing their natural territorial rights. It is big on sex too,
with ripples of raw energy flashing between Rob Roy and his fiery wife Mary
(Jessica Lange in remarkable form), which seem particularly combustible when
they are near the odd standing stone - they don't even need to touch each
other and you know that they are going to conceive. Certainly, it's one of the
more robust depictions of married life to reach the screens recently, with
Mary very much the partner, rather than just being a symbol of wifely virtue.
These two are the fecund people of the land indeed - human standing stones
that defiantly stand their ground.

As such, Michael Caton-Jones' film, from a script by Alan Sharp (who also
wrote two key films of the 1970s, Nightmoves and Ulzana's Raid), is a hefty
monument to the man who became a myth and one of the staples of the Scottish
tourist industry. Rob Roy Macgregor was the most famous cattle-drover of them
all, who roamed the hills in the late 17th and early 18th centuries and both
worked for and fought against the wily English landowners. As a Scottish Robin
Hood of sorts, but one who, instead of green tights, wears a plaid kilt as red
and rust and blue as the lochs and hills, he is the perfect romantic figure -
the noble if sometimes savage outlaw whom both William Wordsworth and Walter
Scott immortalised. A more rigorous scrutiny of his history might reveal a
less than perfect record; for instance he was nowhere to be seen in the 1715
Jacobite uprising, but for romance's sake that makes him even more perfect.
The myth of Rob Roy is about the triumph of the individual spirit rather than
the sweaty stuff of revolution. That it can be safely constructed so is born
out by the publicity blurb for the film, which pitches it as a story about one
hero and how his "love for one woman gave him honour, courage and, ultimately,
his life".

Revealingly, Scott described Rob Roy as "blending the wild virtues, the subtle
policy and unrestrained licence of an American Indian". It is easy to see why
parallels are being drawn between Rob Roy and Michael Mann's adaptation of
James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. Both stories chart a
struggle between those whose rights to the land are seen as natural and
inalienable and the English invaders who want to "tame" the Highland
wilderness for their own ends. They are westerns in reverse Soon to follow is
Braveheart, Mel Gibson's fling at the Highland tale, in which he plays the
13th-century rebel William Wallace complete with becoming blue woad make-up
and shaggy mop-top.

Certainly hair is important in these films. Rob Roy has flowing, unkempt locks
signalling him as a wild man of the people (and of the long-haired cattle - at
one point he even hides in a cow's carcass). It is the kind of masculine ease
with nature that Robert Bly has been banging on his drum about. Playing Rob
Roy up to the kilt, Neeson stalks across the frame with a sinewy grace. He is
the kind of actor who was born to chew the cud with bovine-style
contemplation. Or at least that expression of fretful concern on his face that
he moulded for Schindler cannot be so easily tossed away. Indeed, with Neeson
in the role, there is every evidence that there is as much brain in that head
to match the brawn. It is necessary to Rob Roy's credentials as an up-market
action movie.

Compared to the strapping Rob Roy, the English aristocrat (John Hurt's Marquis
of Montrose) for whom he tends cattle, and his silk-slippery sidekick, the
aptly named Archibald Cunningham (Tim Roth) are porcelain brittle fops whose
power is manifest in their income rather than their physical stature. The
casting of Hurt and Roth, who last played together as a vicious assassin and
his protege in The Hit (1984), brings to bear all sorts of underhand meanings.
They are cruel and treacherous, but there is also a powdered and coiffed
effeminacy to their characters. One only has to think of Hurt's Quentin Crisp.
Meanwhile Roth, who plays Cunningham with a ruthless precision, claims to have
modelled the character on a cross between Basil Rathbone, the king of
dastards, and sitcom queen John Inman. Rob Roy and his clan might get away
with wearing skirts but, for the aristos, such cultivated feminisation is a
blemish. Montrose and Co might have long curly locks too - but theirs are just
wigs disguising whispy pates. Never has the rightful heir to a land that is
still contested been made more apparent.

"Rob Roy" is on nationwide release on 26 May
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