FOR Edinburgh, not used to frequent A-list visits, the crowd that turned out to watch Russell Crowe walk the red carpet for the "public premiere" of his controversial new film, Noah, was something of a flood.
Hundreds lined the street as he arrived at the Edinburgh Filmhouse yesterday for his second of three whistlestop premieres in one day, in Dublin, Cardiff and Edinburgh. Crowe, who is of Irish, Welsh and Scots descent, apparently couldn't decide which nation he felt the most affinity for, so went for them all.
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But just as impressive as Crowe himself was what followed him as he crossed Lothian Road to the cinema. Not two by two, but in a great kilted pack came members of the Clanranald Trust - whose work at the Scottish medieval village, Duncarron, he has supported. They sailed through the crowd like a pretorian guard. "Russell has been our great friend," explained one clansman. "He has given us a lot of help with our village." Crowe himself, when asked about his relationship with the charity said: "As far as I'm concerned that connection stays until I'm dust, man."
The film, directed by the Darren Aronofsky, has been the focus of much controversy: banned in parts of the Middle East for daring to depict "Allah's messenger", but also criticised by Christian groups.
The audience didn't care about the controversy. And the many Christians who had turned out said they just wanted to see what had been done with one of their favourite bible stories. Two members of evangelical Destiny Church, Samantha Findlay and Natalie Morgan, were optimistic. Findlay wanted to see what had been done "with the original story, because there's not that much [of it] in the Bible. So they've obviously added stuff in."
Inside the cinema, Crowe spoke for a few moments, but was reluctant to commit a yes or no to Scottish independence. "Is everyone getting a real independent look at what the situation would be, or are they being fed information from south of the Border? That would be my question," he said.
For him, though, there seemed to be little chance of separation being a big blow to the film industry. "Here's the way I see it, man. I don't think, in terms of a cultural identity, Scotland is any less in the mind of people round the world than it's ever been. It has a very clear and certain cultural identity that people understand. That is Scottish."
He ruled out reuniting with Sir Ridley Scott for the filmmaker's forthcoming production about Scottish warrior William Wallace.
Croweï»¿ teamed up with Scott in the past for 2000 blockbuster Gladiator and, more recently, with their take on Robin Hood in 2010.
But the New Zealand-born star said he has no interest in becoming the second Australasian William Wallace, picking up the baton from Mel Gibson's Braveheart, in the planned TV mini-series about Wallace and Robert the Bruce for the Discovery Channel. "Not if it's a TV show - I've got other things to do, mate," Crowe said.
Crowe chatted with fans about his Scottish roots. "My grandfather's name was Wemyss, but he was not from the town of Wemyss," he said. "I think Scotland's a pretty fascinating place. I'd love to come back."
Noah has been banned already in Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. But it's the Christian reaction that has more troubled its makers, since this represents a considerable swathe of the global market. Crowe has done much to defend the film in recent weeks, and did so again in Edinburgh, saying: "The severity of the criticism over the last few months has been a little unreasonable considering people were commenting on something they hadn't seen. And now they're beginning to see it, there are guys from the Christian Press in America or Catholic Church saying it's an amazing experience and it's a very respectful movie."
The controversy around the film, however, was not enough to make the Pope rescind a recent invitation to Crowe and the two met last week. "I don't ever remember feeling any connection to any other Pope," said Crowe, "but I feel quite close to this one. He's changed the tone of the Catholic Church and opened the conversation. So it was a wonderful climax that I was able to be there."