Restless Natives review – classic Scottish comedy is a reminder of a sweeter era

“Guns are for LASSIES! Nobody seems to put the BOOT in any more!” This rousing manifesto for muscular non-armed crime of the traditional sort comes from one of the hardened villains that surreally pop up in this intensely likable Scottish caper from 1985, with a soundtrack from Big Country. It was part of a boom in Britmovie comedy of the era when Scotland was becoming caustically alienated from Thatcherite England, and which gave us Bill Forsyth’s Gregory’s Girl, Comfort and Joy and Local Hero. The script from Ninian Dunnett was originally the winning entry of a screenwriting competition (Dunnett in fact wrote no more for the screen after this, and became an author and social historian) and it was directed by the anglophile and caledonophile American Michael Hoffman.

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Joe Mullaney plays Ronnie, a likely Edinburgh lad who works in a joke shop, like Miranda Hart. He and his nervy mate Will (Vincent Friell) decide they’re sick of being poor and resolve to tour around the countryside on their motorbike, in a clown and wolfman disguise, robbing tourist buses – which they do so politely that they become folk heroes. Bryan Forbes and Nanette Newman provide cameos as a grumpy English couple who assume they’re a student “rag week” stunt and fob them off with one of the big 50p coins of the day.

But when the lads’ criminal career takes off, a mean American cop over here on holiday, played by Ned Beatty, gets on their trail with his flashy big mobile phone (“It’s the Man from UNCLE!” giggle the local officers) and tension emerges between the two bandits. Will finds himself romantically involved with Margot (Teri Lally), a tour guide on a bus he’d just stuck up, and Ronnie falls in some with serious villains, led by a deadpan Mel Smith. Kids keep cropping up in the action – unsentimental and unimpressed by both the cops and the robbers. It’s the kind of gentle and yet sweetly funny use of children that British cinema just doesn’t do any more. Ronnie and Will are in some ways innocent forerunners of Renton, Spud et al in Trainspotting, and also a prototype Wallace and Gromit.

  • Released on 1 March on digital platforms.