The Flying Scotsman, starring Jonny Lee Miller, tells the story of Graeme Obree, a famous British cyclist from before such sports stars were really famous in the UK. A rival of Chris Boardman‘s, Obree won world championships and set the world mile records whilst reinventing how to build and sit on a bike and struggling with mental health issues.
It’s a moving tale, told brilliantly in the book on which the film is based. The film cannot match the book’s level of detail and makes the usual artistic compromises with the facts, but (or because) is still an enjoyable watch.
Obree’s disputes with the governing body of cycling as he pioneered new, more aerodynamic, sitting positions and more efficient bike designs (including famously one which took parts from a washing machine), were a central part of his cycling career. In the film the cycling authorities are rather cartoon caricature bad guys, although given the depths of controversy to which cycling administrators have sunk at times this is perhaps not as far off the mark as it seems.
More problematic for the film is the way the moments of great achievements – breaking the world hour record – and of great darkness – the mental health struggles – all fall a little flat as they are rushed through without really engaging the audience’s emotions.
Even if you know nothing about cycling, the film explains what is happening and why clearly – and the story of an obstinate, flawed genius battling rivals and the authorities makes for a great tale even if you have no interest in sport. The film does a decent job at telling that tale, but doesn’t quite hit the mark.
If you like this, you might also be interested in the book, The Flying Scotsman.
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