The Flying Scotsman

  • 25 July 2006

This article is from 2006.

The Flying Scotsman

Some real life stories blow the mind. Take Scottish racing cycling champion Graeme Obree who, in July 1993, broke the world record for the longest distance traveled in one hour on a bike, previously held for nine years by Francesco Moser, with a distance of 51km. The record lasted less than a week, being broken by his long term cycling rival Englishman Chris Boardman, but Obree re-took the record in April 1994. He was also Individual pursuit World Champion in 1993 and 1995. Domestically, he also broke the British 10-mile individual time trial record in 1993, won the RTTC 50-mile championship the same year and won the 25 mile championship in 1996.

These sporting facts are hardly the most interesting thing about this inspirational man who grew up in Ayrshire. Obree' s achievements were all the more remarkable because, up to taking the 'hour record' for the first time, his riding had been largely amateur, and he certainly did not have large scale sponsorship and development support, unlike other professional cyclists of the day. Instead, in order to achieve his goal, he developed a unique riding position (the 'crouch', or 'tuck' position) and, like some sports mad genius, constructed a unique bike frame out of household objects to achieve his goal.

Obree's story also has a dark side. In 1994 his beloved older brother Gordon died suddenly, and he found himself sliding in and out of severe alcohol-aided depression over the following years. Meanwhile, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI, the world governing body for cycling) kept changing the rules throughout the late 1990s on what riding positions were allowed, and Obree would often find himself banned from taking part in high stakes racing hours before the event.

It is little wonder then that screenwriter Simon Rose wrote the first draft of a film based on the Obree story over 12 years ago. Four years ago, seasoned TV director Douglas MacKinnon (The Last Detective, Nice Guy Eddie, Bodies) attached himself to the project along with two other screenwriters, John Brown and Declan Hughes and actor Jonny Lee Miller, and the real struggle to bring a fictionalised of Obree's story to the big screen began.

MacKinnon takes up the story: 'It's been a struggle all along, there've been aborted shoots; shut down productions; the stand alone company is still in administration because there are still a lot of debts in Scotland and so on. But what I am hoping is, with the Edinburgh Film Festival giving us such a great boost, that the film itself will form the cavalry and make enough money to make sure everyone gets paid. There would be something so sweet about that.'

Having finally shot the film last summer in just 32 days in Ayrshire, Glasgow and Germany, Mackinnon is euphoric about his sporting movie, which also boasts the considerable acting talents of Brian Cox, Steven Berkoff, Billy Boyd and Laura Fraser. Mackinnon palpably bubbles with excitement in his Isle of Skye accented way: 'I kind of see the film as Rocky with a small 'r': that presses the right buttons
for me. The film is really about this individual who realises that he can't survive on his own and that breaking records doesn't give you inner peace.' Changing the subject suddenly, he laughs: 'You know, Graeme came to the set almost everyday, and for much of the filming he doubles as Jonny in the cycling scenes. He has this disorder - bipolar disorder - but when you are with him he is just the most life affirming man in the world, so full of exuberance and existence.' (Paul Dale)

Cineworld, 14 Aug, 9.30pm & 9.45pm.

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