The Flying Scotsman

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Flying Scotsman Movie Poster Image
Cycling drama doesn't quite race to the finish.
  • PG-13
  • 2007
  • 103 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The main character makes a valiant effort to stay noble in the face of unfair judging during a race. He also clearly demonstrates that he's not a quitter. There are some dark moments when he's lost in the fog of depression and bullying by classmates when he's younger.

Violence

Obree is bullied as a child (kicked, shoved, and worse) and meets up with the same mean crowd later, at which point he reacts with rage. He also tries to kill himself by hanging. (A father and a child find him.) Some shouting between Obree and his manager.

Sex

Some kissing between couples, but no more than that (sex is only hinted at).

Language

Mild. Some use of "damn."

Consumerism

Bicycle paraphernalia, including wheels by Specialized.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking in pubs and at post-race celebrations (champagne popping).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this based-on-a-true story sports movie aspires to be inspirational, which works half the time. But it also brings up questions about depression and madness, including an onscreen suicide attempt, which may not be answered by the film itself -- and may be tricky for teens to put into context. Other than that, the content is pretty mild.

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What's the story?

THE FLYING SCOTSMAN is based on cyclist Graeme Obree's autobiography. Obree wasn't a typical champion cyclist: He was an outsider, known as much for challenging conventions and re-inventing riding positions as he was for his meandering trajectory to greatness. A Scotsman who showed promise in the sport early on, he first found international fame in 1993 by breaking the record for distance covered in an hour on a bike he made himself out of random scraps. It was a feat he and his supporters funded themselves, since Obree had no corporate sponsors. But scarcely a week after accomplishing this feat, American cyclist Chris Boardman bested it. Obree set out to repeat his feat while he also battled mental illness.

Is it any good?

Jonny Lee Miller ably captures Obree's weary struggle, never overplaying like a lesser actor might have. Thanks to Miller's performance, Obree's demons don't define him but are simply of him -- in the way most people's demons are. There are no histrionics here, no wide-eyed ravings of a man on the brink. The result is an artfully sketched likeness that's both sympathetic and believable. The rest of the cast -- particularly erstwhile Hobbit Billy Boyd as Obree's manager, Malky -- also rises to the occasion. But the script by John Brown, Simon Rose, and Declan Hughes unfortunately doesn't. Because for all the hinting that the writers and director Douglas MacKinnon do at Obree's mental battles, they never quite explain what's behind all the pain. Flashbacks to a young Obree being bullied -- as horrible as these incidents may be -- don't feel like reason enough. (In real life, Obree's brother's death was a big catalyst for his decline, but none of that material is found here.)

Moreover, Obree's marriage to his wife, Anne (Laura Fraser), hardly appears threatened by his melancholy -- which, frankly, seems implausible. And his motivation for constantly setting the bar high isn't clear. (Reduced to working as a bike messenger, he suddenly aims to break a world record, foregoing the more-expected winning-smaller-races route.) With the rock bottom of the hero's life glossed over, the highs don't seem quite so euphoric. And isn't that swing from dark to light precisely what makes going to sports movies so worth the ride?

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the media creates a hero. What did Obree have to live up to in terms of his fame? How does this portrayal compare to what you've seen in other sports movies? Does it sometimes seem like all famous sports figures have to overcome adversity? Does what happens in their personal life matter, or should significance be placed solely on what they achieve in their field?

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