When I was a young boy I was delighted by my first viewing of Restless Natives. It was a good film, there was that, but I was mainly delighted because much of it was set in the city of Edinburgh. My home. It was, I think, the first time that I'd seen the city in a movie. Thankfully, I have grown to learn that other people have realised what a great setting Edinburgh is, and I've seen it in movies as diverse as The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, Shallow Grave, New Town Killers, Book Of Blood, The Illusionist (where it was in animated form) and The Angel's Share, to name but a few. So while I have discovered Edinburgh in many other movies over the years, I have always had a soft spot for Restless Natives. A recent rewatch of the movie proves that my soft spot for it is deserved. It's a sweet, funny, wonderful film that holds up just as well now as it did back in the mid-1980s. Okay, part of the charm now may stem from being able to see Edinburgh as it was back then, but it still remains a lesser-known gem of a movie.
Will (Vincent Friell) and Ronnie (Joe Mullaney) are two young Scotsmen who aren't really doing great things in life. Will works for the local council, trying to keep Princes Street Gardens clean and tidy, while Ronnie works in a joke shop and gets grief from adults who have been pranked by their children. The two of them try robbery, but they're no good at that either. Until, instead of robbing cars on Highland roads, they decide to don masks (one is a clown and one is a wolf-man), get on a motorbike and rob coaches. Coaches full of rich tourists. Things start to go well and the pair even become celebrities thanks to their unusual brand of criminal behaviour. Will finds himself attracted to a young woman (Teri Lally) he sees during a robbery, Ronnie is thinking ahead to when they can start spending their money and the two keep evading the police thanks to the versatility of their motorbike. But, like any great partnership, cracks soon start to appear as they bask in the glow of their success. It may be time to call it a day soon, especially with a tenacious American (Bender, played by Ned Beatty) determined to capture and arrest them.
There's so much that I want to say about Restless Natives that I worry just how long this review will become. I'll not dilly dally any further anyway. The script was written by Ninian Dunnett, and it's a pretty perfect mix of great characterisations and quotable lines (the fact that there are no "memorable quotes" on the IMDb page for this movie is shocking). This was Dunnett's first script, and also his last. That's just sad. Considering how great this movie is, to even have the chance to see one more penned by Dunnett would be a treat I'd jump at the chance to experience. Wherever you are, Ninian Dunnett, I will always be indebted to you for this movie.
Director Michael Hoffman, on the other hand, moved on from this to films as diverse as Soapdish, Restoration, A Midsummer Night's Dream and, most recently, Gambit. Sadly, I've only seen Gambit, which I didn't enjoy all that much, but the rest have been given a fair bit of praise. Hoffman is obviously a talented guy, but I look forward to eventually checking out the rest of his filmography and seeing if anything really matches this film for sheer likeability.
The cast is super, with relative newcomers like Friell, Mullaney, Taylor and Ian McColl holding their own alongside names such as Beatty, Bernard Hill, Robert Urquhart and Mel Smith (in a cameo role). There are also a lot of people onscreen I forgot to note down the names of, despite each one making a minor supporting role into a potential scene-stealer. They include the two men playing police officers under the command of Urquhart, the girl who plays the younger sister of Friell's character and a group of Japanese TV presenters who end up getting in the middle of a hot pursuit while trying to film the clown and the wolf-man in action, simply to show off the capabilities of the motorbike that they use.
There are two other stars I have yet to mention. One is Edinburgh, with more of it shown onscreen here than in any other film (to my knowledge). Whether it's The Mound, Princes Street itself, parts of Wester Hailes - these names will mean nothing to people who haven't lived in the city, but they'll raise a smile on the faces of those who recognise the landmarks and buildings from a few decades ago.
The second star is Big Country, the Scottish rockers known for their unique "bagpipe guitar" sound. They provided a number of tunes for the soundtrack and it's an absolute beauty. In fact, it's hard to think of the movie without the lively guitar work. Thankfully, we don't have to.
It's about crime, it's about friendship, it's about characters becoming bigger than they could have ever imagined, it's about tourism and it's about legends. Perhaps Restless Natives will always be best appreciated by those who live in Edinburgh and spend a disproportionate amount of time each year wading through crowds of tourists who visit to take in the International Festival, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Castle and so much more, but I think that it's a film that can turn anyone into a fan. It's probably the sweetest movie about armed robberies ever made.