Rediscovering Laxdale Hall

Local Hero, Gregory’s Girl and Trainspotting are probably near the top of most people’s lists of best Scottish films, but even the most devout movie buff will struggle to offer up 1953’s ultra-rare Laxdale Hall (Panamint) as one of their favourites.

It’s the story of a group of Highlanders at odds with the British Government, following disputes surrounding the road which leads from their village to the rest of Scotland. When the men from the ministry arrive in Laxdale, determined to move the villagers out of their remote homes and into a newly built town, the locals decide to fight back.

Thought only to survive in a damaged print not suitable for home video, the recent discovery of a near-pristine copy by a West Lothian film distributor meant that a DVD could be released to an unsuspecting world.

While it may not have the cheeky charm and infinite rewatchability of Whisky Galore or the whimsical magic of Local Hero, Laxdale Hall is still a hugely enjoyable yarn, its success lying in the fact that Scotland looks so good and in its impressive cast list.

Made on location at Applecross in the Highlands and featuring many exterior shots of the area, not only does the film feature appearances from Fawlty Towers star Prunella Scales in her first film part, but Local Hero star Fulton Mackay pops up as a young love interest and the late, great Rikki Fulton stars as a Glasgow poacher.

My favourite performance comes from ex-Vital Spark star Roddy McMillan as Willie John Watt, a man who’s wife keeps having baby-after-baby while he has visions of his dead father. It’s a lovely turn which complements the work of character actors such as Jameson Clark and Ronald Squire, bringing the witty script to life.

Having never heard of Laxdale Hall until a few weeks ago, I’d urge all film fans to search out a copy and keep their fingers crossed for more archive gems turning up sometime soon.

Another film worth looking out for is Edinburgh-set Crying with Laughter, in cinemas from today. It’s a drama set in the world of stand-up comedy and features Stephen McCole as a man coming to terms with a past he’s tried hard to forget. Though it’s not always an easy watch, McCole is a strong lead and the script will make you think long after it ends.

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