The Flying Scotsman (2006 film)

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The Flying Scotsman
Flying scotsman.jpg
Promotional poster
Directed by Douglas Mackinnon
Written by John Brown
Declan Hughes
Simon Rose
Starring Jonny Lee Miller
Laura Fraser
Billy Boyd
Brian Cox
Music by Martin Phipps
Cinematography Gavin Finney
Edited by Colin Monie
Distributed by Verve Pictures (United Kingdom)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (USA theatrical)
Release date
  • 16 August 2006 (2006-08-16) (Edinburgh Film Festival)
  • 29 June 2007 (2007-06-29) (United Kingdom)
Running time
96 minutes[1][2]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $11 million[3]
Box office $1,258,900[1]

The Flying Scotsman is a 2006 British drama film, based on the life and career of Scottish amateur cyclist Graeme Obree. The film covers the period of Obree's life that saw him take, lose, and then retake the world one-hour distance record. The film stars Jonny Lee Miller as Obree, Laura Fraser, Billy Boyd and Brian Cox.


The film starts with Graeme Obree (Miller), who suffers from crippling bipolar disorder, cycling into a wood where he prepares to hang himself. A flashback to Obree's (Sean Brown) childhood depicts him being physically attacked at school by other pupils, leaving severe psychological scars. One day Obree is given a bicycle by his parents and we see Obree evading the bullies on his bike.

The adult Obree is married with a child. While competing in local races, he runs a failing cycle shop and has to supplement his income as a bicycle courier. Baxter (Cox), a boatyard owner who is (unbeknownst to Obree) a minister, befriends the atheist Obree.

Obree decides to try and beat the hour record. He has neither the funding nor the quality of bicycle required. Determined to succeed, he constructs "Old Faithful", a revolutionary bicycle designed by Obree for maximum efficiency, made up from scrap metal and components from a washing machine. With help from his friend and manager Malky McGovern (Boyd), Obree plans to break the world record in Norway. His first attempt is a failure, but he tries again the following morning and succeeds. His victory is short-lived, and his record is broken by Chris Boardman (Adrian Grove (credited as Adrian Smith)) a week later. The Union Cycliste Internationale changes the rules to discourage Obree from using his experimental bicycle.

Obree is severely depressed the night following his record-making ride. This is exacerbated when Boardman breaks the record. When Obree is confronted in a pub by the four bullies who had victimised him years earlier at school, he becomes completely withdrawn and rarely leaves his house. Baxter attempts to counsel him, but Obree feels betrayed when he discovers that Baxter is the pastor of a local church.

He recovers enough to compete in the Individual Pursuit World Championship in 1993, in which he uses his bicycle design again. The UCI officials begin rigorously enforcing the new ruling, penalizing him for riding in the stance that his bicycle design is intended to support. The physical and emotional exertion take their toll, and he crashes disastrously, breaking his arm.

The plot then returns to the opening of the film. The rope Obree uses to hang himself breaks, and he is found by another cyclist who summons the authorities. Obree initially resists treatment, until Baxter tells him about his wife, who also suffered from bipolar disorder and ultimately took her own life. At Obree's request, his wife, Anne, a hospital nurse, agrees to help him begin treatment.

Obree later makes a comeback and regains his world title. The new bicycle configuration that he uses, which supports the "Superman" stance, is later banned by the UCF after eight riders win gold medals with it.


  • Jonny Lee Miller as Graeme Obree: The main character in the film. Jonny Lee Miller joined the project in 2002,[4] and he and Obree spent time together, Miller keen to pick up mannerisms and speech patterns.[5] Obree would later stand-in for Miller during some cycling sequences in the film.[5]
  • Laura Fraser as Anne Obree: Obree's wife, who was once his manager. Laura Fraser had misgivings about playing Obree's wife, Anne, when she was sent Obree's autobiography from Douglas Mackinnon.[6] "I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as I thought it would be all about sport," said Laura, "but I got into the book straight away, it was absolutely compelling."[6] It is the first time Fraser has played a real person and before filming began, she and Miller talked with the Obrees to help show their relationship during the film.[6]
  • Billy Boyd as Malky McGovern: Obree's manager. When approached to have a role in the film, Boyd knew only the "basic elements" of Obree's story.[6] Boyd, being Scottish, felt it important to have the right script and further promote Scottish film.
  • Brian Cox as Douglas Baxter: A minister who helps Obree chase his demons and concentrate on his goal. Cox, a seasoned actor, had been working in Europe before returning to Scotland to shoot the film. He commented that the story is one of "perseverance and passion". He said, since seeing the film, "[t]he end result is even better than I hoped – it's a masterpiece."[6]
  • Morven Christie as Katie, a friend of Anne and within the film, Malky's girlfriend


Graeme Obree on "Old Faithful", his home-made bicycle.

The Flying Scotsman first attracted screenwriter Simon Rose in 1994.[3] Along with Rob Roy producer, Peter Broughan, and Scottish director, Douglas Mackinnon, he based the film's script on Obree's autobiography, also entitled The Flying Scotsman. The film, however, seemed doomed to fail and was cancelled several times.

In 2002, the death of a key American investor caused The Flying Scotsman to collapse only days before shooting was planned to commence.[3] East Ayrshire Council, who originally gave £5000 to fund the project, refused to give further finance, stating that it didn't feel it would contribute to the community.[7] Producer, Broughan, called the decision "a disgrace".[7] It took three years for the project to get back on track. Broughan was joined by producer Damita Nikapota on the project who secured pre-production finance from Freewheel Productions.[3] Peter Broughan tried to sack the director Douglas Mackinnon but Damita Nikapota refused to let this happen.[8]

Shooting of the film began on 7 July 2006 and ended 4 September 2006.[3] The film was shot largely in Galston, Scotland, with East Ayrshire, Glasgow and velodromes in Germany standing in for places in the story such as Colombia, France and Norway.[8]


The Flying Scotsman's first country-wide release was in New Zealand, where the film reached number 2 in the box office and stayed in the top 8 for the first seven weeks of its release. The film kicked off the 60th Edinburgh Film Festival,[9] and later was given a wide-release date of 29 June 2007. Metro-Goldwyn Mayer was the main distributor in the United States, and the film was released there firstly on 29 December 2006.[10] It also received a limited release on 4 May 2007.


Review aggregation web site Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 49% based on 53 reviews. The sites consensus reads: "The Flying Scotsman's too-brisk pacing reduces the scale of cyclist Graham Obree's accomplishments while not uncovering what makes him tick."[2]

The film gained mixed reviews worldwide following its release, with most of the praise being aimed at Jonny Lee Miller's performance in the title role. Russell Baillie, reviewer at the New Zealand Herald, gave the film four stars, commenting that it is "gripping, affecting and inspiring".[11] John Daly-Peoples also praised the film, calling it "compelling & heart-warming".[12] Bill Zwecker, of the Chicago Sun-Times, said "[t]urmoil and victory meet in remarkable Scotsman".[13] Zwecker also called Miller's acting a "revelation".[13] Tom Keogh also praised Miller's acting, calling him "enormously sympathetic and appealing" as Obree.[14] He also gave acclaim to the "terrific supporting cast", commending Brian Cox.[14]

Total Film gave the film a fairly negative review. The film magazine said the mesh of Obree's depression and the "Brit-flick furniture (loyal wife, rural scenery, gawky comic relief)" came off flat, "diminish[ing] rather than elevat[ing] its hero’s achievements".[15] The Guardian also questioned the film's comedic aspect combined with the issue of Obree's condition. Obree is an "opaque and unsympathetic figure" in the film, said reviewer Peter Bradshaw, also calling the record-breaking attempts "weirdly anticlimactic and blank".[16]


  1. ^ a b The Flying Scotsman at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ a b The Flying Scotsman at Rotten Tomatoes Retrieved 2010-05-23.
  3. ^ a b c d e Dawtrey, Adam (2006-07-23). "'Flying Scotsman' defies gravity". Variety (magazine). Retrieved 2007-06-28. 
  4. ^ Wade, Mike (2002-10-19). "Obree's life story gathers momentum with Miller". The Scotsman. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 
  5. ^ a b "Capone With THE FLYING SCOTSMAN's Jonny Lee Miller!!". Ain't It Cool News. 2007-04-30. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 
  6. ^ a b c d e ""The Flying Scotsman" production notes" (PDF). Verve Pictures. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 
  7. ^ a b Booth, Samantha (2002-10-27). "OBREE FILM HITS CRISIS AS COUNCIL SAYS NO". Daily Record (Scotland). Retrieved 2007-06-28. 
  8. ^ a b Kemp, Stuart (2006-08-08). "Film spotlight: "The Flying Scotsman"". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 
  9. ^ Brooks, Xan (2006-07-12). "Flying Scotsman to launch Edinburgh film fest". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 
  10. ^ Wilcockson, John (2006-10-26). "MGM to release Obree movie in the U.S.". VeloNews. Archived from the original on 2007-06-22. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 
  11. ^ Baillie, Russell (2007-04-26). "The Flying Scotsman". New Zealand Herald. 
  12. ^ Daly-Peoples, John. "Flying Scotsman". National Business Review. Archived from the original on 2007-05-03. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 
  13. ^ a b Zwecker, Bill (2007-05-04). "Turmoil and victory meet in remarkable 'Scotsman'". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 
  14. ^ a b Keogh, Tom (2007-05-04). ""The Flying Scotsman's" inspirational tale sends spirits soaring". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 
  15. ^ "Review of The Flying Scotsman". Future Publishing. 29 June 2007. Retrieved 2009-03-01. 2/4 stars
  16. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (2006-08-15). "The Flying Scotsman". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2006-08-19. Retrieved 2007-06-28.  2/5 stars

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