As more and more films and television are available at our fingertips, entertainment from the U.K. has become increasingly popular. When there was once no legal way to access to something like Black Mirror, for example, Netflix offers hundreds of hours of content from across the pond. But it is easy to forget that all U.K. entertainment isn’t centered around London and its suburbs, with many great Scottish filmmakers telling stories from the highlands. There may not be a more perfect example than Local Hero, which basically doubles as a Scottish travel guide, but it isn’t alone. Check out these great Scottish films all available to stream on Netflix [with one noted exception] now:
Braveheart [Mel Gibson, 1995]
Given its controversial director-star, Braveheart’s reputation has waned since it cleaned up at the 68th Academy Awards, but there is no doubt that it is still the highest profile and most notable Scottish film of all time. Sure, its creative force is Australian-American, but it popularized Scottish folk hero and liberator William Wallace. Braveheart is a roaring epic, wonderful large-scale blockbuster filmmaking. Mel Gibson is at the top of his game both in front of and behind the camera, delivering a fully realized action star performance while crafting a specific historical event that has broader cultural significance. Like Local Hero, Braveheart’s release greatly increased interest in Scottish tourism and history, as its sweeping green environments are stunningly filmed.
Trainspotting [Danny Boyle, 1996]
In certain cinematic circles, the true champion of Scottish film is Danny Boyle’s breakout Trainspotting. Starring Scottish-born Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlyle and Kelly Macdonald, the drug addled fever dream of a movie has a much different tone than Braveheart. While Trainspotting may not be a delight to the Scottish tourism board, it is absolutely a delight for anyone able to withstand its bleak dark humor. It is a brightly colored deep dive into debauchery and a flag-bearer of drug addiction movies. It is every bit as brutal as an all-time one-timer like Requiem for a Dream, but also incredibly funny. Now 20 years old, it is as entertaining and well-crafted as ever, and a fantastic look back as the launching pad for its filmmakers and young cast.
The Eagle [Kevin Macdonald, 2011]
Perhaps Scotland’s most prolific filmmaker, Kevin Macdonald is an accomplished director of both documentary [Touching the Void, Marley] and drama [The Last King of Scotland, Black Sea]. The historical epic The Eagle certainly isn’t his best film, but it is interesting for its Roman-empire set time period and as one of Channing Tatum’s first starring roles. In the film, Tatum plays a young Roman soldier searching the British wilderness for the title artifact, a lost symbol of his family. For folks looking for a U.K.-set old-school action film, The Eagle is a decent alternative to the much more acclaimed Braveheart, though a low-rent Gladiator is probably a better descriptor given its era and overall look. Or for those who want to watch something else from Macdonald, his seminal mountain climbing doc Touching the Void and recent post-apocalyptic drama How I Live Now [starring Saoirse Ronan] are currently on Netflix.
Perfect Sense [David Mackenzie, 2011]
Though Kevin Macdonald is still regularly working, David Mackenzie may soon surpass him as Scotland’s premiere filmmaker---Starred Up was a international critical success and his most recent film, Hell or High Water, is an excellent piece of entertainment that will likely be recognized by many critics at the end of the year. Perfect Sense is an odd sci-fi influenced romance starring previously mentioned Ewan McGregor and Eva Green as an ill-fated couple living in a world where people are slowly losing their senses. Though it is a romance at heart, the film’s conceit is intriguing and it beautifully shows how the loss of smell, taste, hearing, etc. thematically runs through the central relationship. It is the quiet kind of science fiction that lasts with the viewer by stimulating emotions over super-complex intellectual design. It is much more low key than his future films, but you can see David Mackenzie’s craft and storytelling forming.
The Angels' Share [Ken Loach, 2012]
Available for Digital Rental
The cinematic voice for the British working class, Ken Loach visited Scotland for his 2012 comedy The Angels’ Share. The film takes on another popular Scottish import: Whisky [the film’s title is taken from the natural evaporation which occurs during the distilling process]. Low-class criminal Robbie [Glasgow-born Paul Brannigan] attempts to turn his life around following the birth of his first son. Robbie’s community service guardian introduces him to the world of fine liquor, and the young man shows an immediate knack for identifying quality. The film’s second half becomes an amusing tour through the highlands before it turns to a whacky heist plot centered around the world’s most expensive whisky. The Angels’ Share is a fun and sometimes touching film, an interesting blend of its director’s eye for realism and semi-fantastical crime plot.