A generic movie with a remarkable story to tell, “The Flying Scotsman” profiles Graeme Obree, the working-class individualist who, with a homemade bike and a head full of demons, broke world cycling records in the 1990s. The film makes for a passable underdog tale but an inadequate character study as its hero races to glory, yet sinks into gloom.
Opening suicide attempt notwithstanding, the movie is a generally sunny affair, presenting protagonist Graeme (Jonny Lee Miller) as an unemployed amateur cyclist who subsists on marmalade and dreams. The latter come true after he creates an aerodynamically superior bike from, among other things, washing-machine parts. With little fiscal backing but substantial moral support from his wife (Laura Fraser), his manager (Billy Boyd), and a sage minister (Brian Cox), he astounds the cycling universe by setting a world one-mile record. More triumphs follow.
Obstacles take the form of the World Cycling Federation, which, scorning his unorthodox bike design and riding style, concocts blockheaded policies aimed at grounding Graeme. More devastating still is the depression that overcomes him.
Initially, the film makes for an agreeable diversion, à la numerous other semi-indies that have flowed from the U.K. tap specializing in down-on-their-lucksters who do something extraordinary. But like most such fare , it’s an ultimately unsatisfying serio-bonbon that drowns promising triumph-over-hardship material in artificial sunshine and presents it superficially.
The Flying Scotsman **
Starring Jonny Lee Miller, Laura Fraser, Billy Boyd, Brian Cox
Written by John Brown, Declan Hughes, Simon Rose
Directed by Douglas Mackinnon
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes