It’s not often that I go along to see a movie and end up scratching my head until I realise that I am watching someone onscreen that I used to KNOW. Someone I have spoken and laughed with. Well, that is what happened to me while watching Blackbird and seeing a character appear played by Deborah Whyte. This review isn’t all about her, as much as she might like it to be, but that moment sums up the brilliant, random nature of watching so many movies for so many years and getting to know so many different people. I will just say that Deborah does a great job alongside a uniformly great cast, but that’s it. The film, and this review, is mainly about some other people.
Andrew Rothney plays Ruadhan, a young man who lives in a small, rural, Scottish community that seems to be wasting away. It’s not necessarily going to disappear, but the essence of it is something that Ruadhan is trying to hang on to like a rope covered in grease. He spends as much time as possible with the village elders, enjoying their company and learning their songs to sing to others, keeping them alive. Sadly, the songs may not live forever. The older members of the village are dying, the younger folk are eager to head away to big cities and it seems that it’s only Ruadhan who cares about the fate of the traditions and the balance of the old ways with the encroaching elements of modern life (a bistro opening in the village is a particular bone of contention for the young man).
Director Jamie Chambers (working from a script that he co-wrote with Robyn Pete and John Craine) really gets a lot right here in terms of the different generations of Scottish culture and how some people try to maintain certain traditions while others are all too happy to let things fall by the wayside. I may be a city boy, but I have fond memories of being a child in a room full of older Scottish folk who could sing a number of songs at the drop of a hat (or, perhaps more accurately, at the sip of a nip). That warmth, that expression of feeling, that innate talent, seems to have slipped away with every passing decade. It’s sad, but it’s inevitable. Isn’t it?
It’s a talented cast that’s been put together to work with the material. Rothney gives a superb performance as the frustrated, and out of place (time?), Ruadhan, but he’s supported by a number of people doing fantastic, unshowy work. Scarlett Mack is wonderful as Amy, a young woman equal parts attracted and exasperated by Ruadhan’s misdirected passion and Patrick Wallace steals many of the scenes that he’s in as Calum, a young man who yearns to really LIVE after growing up in a place he sees damaging the ones that he loves (such as his father, played by Robert Turner). Then there’s Norman Maclean, an old man trying to get Ruadhan to see what could lie ahead of him.
I wasn’t being won over by Blackbird from the very beginning. It’s not a perfect film, in many ways, but it kept throwing in so many wonderful moments that by the time the end credits rolled I knew I would recommend it as one to watch. Much like the songs sung by my gran years ago, the crackling and varying quality ends up adding to the charm. Otherwise it would be just another polished, generic release.
DIRECTOR: JAMIE CHAMBERS
WRITER: ROBYN PETE, JAMIE CHAMBERS, JOHN CRAINE
STARS: ANDREW ROTHNEY, SCARLETT MACK, PATRICK WALLACE, SHEILA STEWART, NORMAN MACLEAN, ROBERT TURNER, MARGARET BENNETT, DEBORAH WHYTE
RUNTIME: 90 MINS APPROX