Masterpiece or mess? It is a question which has to be posed about two

new films of particular interest to Scottish cinemagoers. They are Bill

Forsyth's Being Human, a commercial failure in the United States, given

its first British screening last night at the Film Festival, and Chasing

the Deer, the paid-for-by-the-public film about Culloden, which opens

next month. An enthusiastic Allan Laing, from the throes of the male

menopause, reviews Forsyth's daring epic, while William Russell, who got

over it long ago, writes about Chasing the Deer, which he saw at its

first screening after completion.

Whether Warners decide to give Being Human a general release in

Britain will depend to some extent on the reaction in Edinburgh. Can

Laing tip the scales? Have the people who invested in Chasing the Deer

spent their money wisely?

THREE things you always wanted to know about Being Human: It is Bill

Forsyth's most personal film to date. It is also one of his best; and

you can understand why some people won't like it.

Forsyth made Being Human to please himself. That's obvious. However,

in doing so, he has created a very brave and ambitious piece of work

which will only be fully appreciated by people who (like him) are beyond

the point of no return; those of us who are over 40 and have been round

the block a couple of times. Younger people, as yet unaware that they

are still in the queue for a seat on life's emotional rollercoaster,

should perhaps give this movie a miss. For about 20 years.

In a curious sense, it is an intensely masculine movie, an intimate

and mature exploration of mankind's foibles, failings, and frailties. It

is also an astonishingly honest piece of work. Being human, it says,

means that you make mistakes; that you don't always do the right thing.

Everyone has flaws and we shouldn't strive for perfection -- because

history tells us that it doesn't exist. All we can do is live with what

we've got because that is as good as it gets. This is clearly a film

written and directed by a man who has finally come to terms with his own


Being Human is a series of five loosely-connected vignettes, each

starring comic actor Robin Williams. He is funny in none of them. The

first is essentially about the break-up of a family; the last about a

family's reconciliation.

The movie opens with a story from the Bronze Age. A neolithic man

(Williams) lives on a remote island and provides for his woman and two

children. A gang of marauding savages turn up and grab the man's family.

He is human. He wants to survive. He makes no heroic Hollywood attempt

to rescue them. He is left helpless and hopeless on the barren shoreline

as the gang make off with all that he humanly possesses. End of story.

Simple and moving.

Forsyth's saga then takes us on a journey through times past -- the

intimate but uneven relationship between a Roman slave and his master; a

medieval refugee from a European conflict who is deflected from his long

trek home by a dalliance with a beautiful woman; the plight of a

self-centered 16th-century Portuguese grandee who is shipwrecked on the

African coast.

In each story Williams plays the principal role, all characters named

Hector. There is irony here, for they are far removed from the heroism

of their Trojan namesake. They are all part of the human predicament,

each of them faced with the dilemmas and decisions of life. Within the

moral codes of their respective ages, they attempt to be decent human

beings but, human nature being what it is (and ever was), they fail in

differing degrees.

Forsyth's final story, a contemporary tale set in New York, could

stand on its own as a cut-out-and-keep guide for short film makers. It

is perfect. Since his divorce, Hector has been separated from his two

children. It is his own fault; he has been too much of a moral coward to

face them. We meet him when he has at last summoned the courage for a


At first they are hesitant strangers, the children naturally resenting

their father's lengthy absence. But slowly, over a weekend at the coast,

Hector admits his failings, opens his heart, and the three slowly come

to terms with each other. It is a touching and truthful story. Williams,

who acts well throughout the film, is stunning in this last parable. It

is a wonderfully subdued and tender performance.

There are those who have already decided that Being Human is Forsyth's

great cinematic folly (the film's general release is far from certain).

But you can tell when you watch it that it was a labour of love. You

could, if you like, accuse him of self-indulgence. It is not, after all,

the most accessible film he has ever made. But it is one which you will

savour and think about long after the visual images have gone from the


THIS is the story of the film that isn't here, the film everyone

thought they would never, could never make. But they did, it is

finished, and opens throughout Scotland on September 16, four days after

a gala premier in Edinburgh at the Odeon, Clerk Street.

It is, of course, Chasing the Deer, the drama about Culloden made with

funds raised by public subscription. Was it money well spent? The answer

is yes. It is no masterpiece, but it has its moments. It is spectacular

to look at. There is no getting away from it -- the star is Scotland.

The Scottish film establishment, which has admittedly very little

money to spend, kept aloof from the whole shebang. After all, why give

the money to strangers with no track record when you have your mates to

look after? Producer Bob Carruthers, faced with this disinterest, turned

to the nation for help.

Advertisements were placed in the papers seeking investments and they

were duly received. That story, however, is well documented. What

matters now is what that money was spent on. Carruthers says he has

tried to create a commercial film, not an arty one, and he has


The story is simple. It is the run-up to the Forty-Five, and young

Euan (Lewis Rae) is courting. His father wants nothing to do with the

Young Pretender, his mother fears what lies ahead. When the Rebellion

breaks out Euan is press-ganged into in Cumberland's army as a drummer

boy. His father, against his will, is serving with the Jacobite forces

because he believes his son's life depends on it. Euan has accidentally

killed a man, and his father is told if he does not join the Cause, the

boy will hang.

Euan is taken up by one of Cumberland's men, a Major Elliot, played by

Brian Blessed -- he and Iain Cuthberston at Tulliebardine are the film's

star names. Elliot has lost his own son and sees in Euan a replacement.

It all ends in tears, as one knows it must.

The script by Carruthers, Jerome Vincent and Rob Whitehouse is at best

serviceable, and has some glaring infelicities. Character A does tend to

tell Character B something they both know so that we too may share the

knowledge, a clumsiness of style unforgiveable in this day and age. The

budget limitations also mean that while locations change, there is often

little sense of getting from one place to another. We go to Edinburgh

when it falls to the Prince, played by a suitably bonny actor, but have

to make do with a carefully angled shot of the castle.

Chasing the Deer's strength is its Highland locations. They are

stunningly beautiful. Some of the other photography, however, leaves

something to be desired. There are too many static camera shots, when

one longs for the camera to move, not just sit there, as conspirators

conspire or Cumberland threatens massacres galore. Nor is the acting, by

and large, especially inspiring. I doubt if any Hollywood careers will

be launched as a result of the film, although Mr Rae at least is an

appealing wee man.

Mr Blessed, notorious for overacting, indulges himself manfully. The

scene where he assumes the mantle of surrogate fatherhood is so

uncontrolled in its eye rolling and meaningful pausing that one begins

to wonder if he is not about to start fondling the lad's sporran, which

would have resulted in quite a different movie -- Chasing the dear,


On the whole it is the women who come off best, although they have

less to do, being required mainly to keen in the background and weep

when disaster comes. As for the battle scenes, they are well handled and

as spectacular as may be, although not particularly original. Messrs

Carruthers and Holloway do not appear to have many ideas of their own,

so that we get the usual shots of cannon belching fire, smoke swirling

and people disappearing in murk, which has been around since the Red

Badge of Courage and before.

However, the fighting does look real, and the score by John Wetton,

Runrig and Fish is haunting. There is particularly fine closing ballad

sung by Wetton, Song of Battles, which alone deserves to make the film a


Since it only came back from the laboratory on Friday, the day I saw

it, the chances of it being included in the Film Festival were probably

always slight, if indeed anybody ever asked for it. But given that the

Just Do It workshop starts today, it is a pity this example of what you

get when you do it, is not around, even as a work-in-progress.

But that is by the by. What matters is what is up there on the screen,

and what is up there is a perfectly respectable first feature film, a

pageant almost, which does not dishonour the tragedy of Culloden and the

Forty-Five. Will it, as it claims, stir your blood and break your heart?

Find out for yourselves. It will certainly delight your eyes and enchant

your ears, and that is something.