Despite the promise of lockdown life easing a little, returning to cinemas to stare at the silver screen is sadly an unlikely prospect anytime soon.
So, we thought we’d share a handful of our favourite films to help you pass the time, each made or inspired by these Outer Hebridean islands we call home.
There’s a real mix of movies on our bill, from silent black ’n’ whites and twee war tales, to true classics and spectacular sci-fi. There’s even a lighthouse-based thriller from the last few years.
So, dim the lights, dip into the popcorn and do enjoy these motion-picture delights…
#1: St. Kilda, Its People and Birds - directed by Oliver Pike (1908)
This was the first film to be shot on the island of St Kilda off the far west coast of Harris. It was made by the pioneering cinematographer Oliver Pike, and captured rare images of life 22 years before the inhabitants were evacuated. A keen naturalist, Oliver turns his lens on the islanders’ remarkable methods of snaring sea birds for food, and gathering eggs from precarious cliff faces. Filming St Kildan life was not only a test of his technical skills but also of his resolve, burdened as he was with cumbersome camera equipment to get these silent but astounding shots.
#2: The Western Isles - directed by Terry Bishop (1941)
A rather short and strange wee war film telling the story of survivors fleeing a ship sunk by an enemy submarine close to the Outer Hebrides. In between shots of their island-bound boat, the film documents scenes of the island life which awaits them. It’s all here in glorious Hebridean Technicolour, from blackhouses and peat banks to the weaving and ‘waulking’ of Harris Tweed. You’ll enjoy some terribly wooden performances from the local actors and plenty of lyrical Gaelic language. Released during the Second World War the film was heavily criticised by Minister of Information Brendan Bracken who claimed its cosy domestic scenes made Britain look backward in the face of German industrial might. And, while the sun is always shining in the final film, our typically severe bad weather meant extra funding was required to finally complete the shoot. We think it was probably worth it.
#3: Whisky Galore - directed by Alexander Mackendrick (1949)
Written by Compton Mackenzie and based on the true story of the SS Politician which sunk off the coast of Eriskay in 1941. Filmed less than a decade later on Barra just to our south, this classic Ealing comedy reimagines the good ship ‘Cabinet Minister’ running aground carrying 50,000 cases of whisky on board. As luck would have it the sober and gloomy local inhabitants nearby had run out of the stuff because of wartime rationing. So, evading the attentions of meddling Customs and Excise men, a battle of wits quickly ensues as the islanders endeavour to ‘rescue’ a dram or two for themselves. Great fun to watch, and a class apart from the lacklustre remake of 2016.
#4: 2001: A Space Odyssey - directed by Stanley Kubrick (1968)
Although light-years away from an island movie, the Isle of Harris can lay claim to playing a minor role in this masterpiece of sixties sci-fi. The rocky, barren landscapes of our eastern and southern shores stand in for the planet Jupiter, with 65mm footage being shot from a helicopter by assistant director Andrew Birkin. Heavily colour-tinted in post-production, Kubrick was to transform our traditional Hebridean terrain into the trippy ‘Beyond The Infinite’ sequences towards the end of the film. The rocks of these lunar-looking lands are known as Anorthosite and can also be found on the moon, as well as being used in our distillery interiors. Whether the nearby Macleod standing stone was inspiration for the film’s famous monolith is open to debate, but this remains a movie which is quite literally out of this world.
#5: The Vanishing - directed by Kristoffer Nyholm (2018)
The Vanishing, previously titled Keepers, is a 2018 British psychological thriller/drama set in the remote and rugged Flannan Isles off the far north-west coast of Harris. These lonely, distant islands are best known for the real-life mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers there in 1900, whose sad fate has never been fully understood. Starring Gerald Butler, Peter Mullan and Connor Swindells, this fictional tale tackles fear, self-preservation and greed as the three men settle in for six weeks of duty on their remote outpost. Finding a wrecked lifeboat washed up on their small island, they head down to the rocks to investigate, with terrible results…
We hope you find time to watch our recommendations and please do let us know if you have any Hebridean films favourites of your own to share.