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Brave, the Oscars and the Scottish Cringe.

25 February 2013

1:47 PM

25 February 2013

1:47 PM

Hurrah for Brave, the little movie that could! And did! All Scotland salutes her Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Another triumph for the plucky underdogs at Disney-Pixar.

That, at any rate, is the Scottish government’s view. This “Scottish film” (according to the SNP’s official twitter feed) is another example of Caledonian excellence. Only pedants and churls – of which the country possesses no shortage – can fail to be stirred by the movie’s victory in a minor Oscar category.

Well, of course, there’s nothing wrong with liking Brave – a perfectly decent movie – and nothing wrong with preferring it to animated movies you most probably have not seen. But, really, there’s something desperate, something dispiriting, about pretending that its success owes anything significant to its setting. If Brave is a “Scottish film” then the latest version of Les Miserables is a triumph of French cinema. Somehow, however, I doubt Francois Holland felt the need to associate himself with that sprawling mess. The French have no need to debase themselves in such a fashion.

Moreover, by these standards Brigadoon is also a triumph of “Scottish” cinema even though the movie’s producers found nowhere in Scotland that looked sufficiently Scottish in which to film it. The suggestion that all Scots should somehow be cheered by Pixar’s latest triumph, allowing us to bask in some modest measure of reflected glory, makes about as much sense as “supporting” a production of Macbeth at the Olivier awards.

Again, there’s little wrong with Brave. But it was depressing to witness nationalists (on Twitter, chiefly) complaining that the BBC had (initially) failed to afford Disney’s latest triumph the space, attention and recognition it deserved. Was this, the inference went, because the movie was set in Scotia? Oh dear.

Similarly, it was suggested that only the sourest-spirited Unionist could fail to be cheered by this movie’s success. Again, the implication was that if you weren’t aboard the Team Brave bandwagon you were guilty of “talking Scotland down” or some such other example of pompous tommyrot.

Worse still, noting that it is daft to claim a movie as “Scottish” simply because it happens to be set in a fictional, fantasy Scotland was, I was told, clear evidence that the naysayer was crippled by the famous Scottish cringe.

But, actually, I think the cringe factor works the other way round. It is one thing to boast of the country’s real successes, quite another to invent them in the first place. There’s nothing especially grievous about the mythical Scotland in which Brave is set but I’d only note – in passing – that this romantic, fantastical Scotland often tends to provoke left-wing (and some nationalist) ire when it’s delivered by the wrong people (you can guess who they are).  Perhaps there is a Disney exception.

The Scottish government cannot be accused of missing an opportunity for grandstanding, however. The First Minister attended the movie’s premiere in California while VisitScotland and Disney arranged for a tourism campaign costing a reported £7m. A nice piece of corporate welfare, that. And who knows, perhaps Brave will persuade some folk to take their vacation in Scotland rather than elsewhere. Perhaps. Not much harm in that.

Nevertheless, Mr Salmond’s suggestion that Braveflies the flag for Scotland” is nonsensical. All this relentless boosterism becomes wearisome. It doth protest too much. It reminds one of Sally Fields’ gushing, toe-curling Oscar acceptance speech in which she breathlessly declared: ‘I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!’

The cringe lies not with those largely indifferent to Brave’s success but with those who suggest we should be flattered – nay, honoured! – by the fact that an American movie company chose to set a cartoon in Scotland rather than in Iceland, Transylvania, Peru or any one of a thousand other locations that could just as easily satisfied the movie’s story demands. Look at us! Just look at us! Hollywood loves us! There is something oddly demeaning about this.

It’s a good wee movie. If you liked it then, sure, be happy it has done well. But, really, it’s got next to nothing to do with us and pretending that it does risks making you seem slightly silly. A truly confident country – or political sensibility – wouldn’t need to make exaggerated claims for it.

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