Chasing the Deer
directed by Graham Holloway
(Cromwell, 1994)

Few years bite in the hearts of Scottish Nationalists as bitterly as 1745. That was the year that Charles Edward Stuart, son of the exiled King James of Scotland, came to reclaim a throne. His triumphant march south to Edinburgh and the tragic aftermath of that initial success is the subject of Chasing the Deer, a low-budget Scottish film that preceded the likes of Rob Roy and Braveheart to the cinema.

To make this film, some supporters paid to appear on screen. The scheme financed the picture, but unfortunately it made for a ragged product. The battle scenes, a key part of this movie, are only occasionally convincing. The pacing is uneven, segues are rough and the acting is spotty. Even Brian Blessed, a well-known actor who portrays the English officer Major Elliot, seems unsure of his character and plays his sentimentality card a bit heavy-handedly.

But what Chasing the Deer lacks in polish it provides in heart. It realistically depicts the mutable loyalty of the Scots for a questionable cause (many at the time were content with English leadership and distrusted the foreign "Pretender" who couldn't even speak their language), as well as the pride and later despair of those who followed Charlie's path. Also evident is the politics behind the half-hearted support of certain Scottish leaders, often coupled with surreptitious opposition, and the variable fervor that turned friends and families against one another as they argued the rightness of Bonnie Prince Charlie's cause. The outcome of history becomes clear as you watch the prince's arrogant overconfidence made worse by his military naivete and his willingness to take incompetent tactical advice.

However, the movie doesn't focus its lens solely on the battlefield and council chamber. Instead, it devotes much of its attention to the men on both sides of the conflict and the women they left behind. Specifically, it features Alistair Campbell (Mathew Zajac), son of a Jacobite killed in the 1715 rising, and Alistair's young son Euan (Lewis Rae). Neither wants to be involved in Charlie's rebellion, yet both are forced into conflict -- on opposite sides. While their story is a little too sentimental and predictable, it again touches at the Scottish heart. Likewise, singer Fish brings intensity to the role of Angus Cameron, a fiercely loyal Jacobite.

The final battle scene on Culloden Moor, where the Highland troops in 1746 were ripped to shreds by English cannon and then slaughtered by merciless foes, is heartbreaking. And that's where Chasing the Deer earns its place beside big-budget spectacles such as Braveheart; the movie is deeply in touch with its Scottish spirit and channels the nation's rage and sorrow over this crushing defeat.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 21 July 2001

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