Brian Ferguson: Whisky Galore breathes life into set-jetting

There appears little to link the great hall of Edinburgh Castle with the lone public house on the Hebridean island of Eriskay. I have the Edinburgh International Film Festival to thank for these unlikely back-to-back encounters.
Whisky Galore! closed the Edinburgh film festival. Picture: Ian GeorgesonWhisky Galore! closed the Edinburgh film festival. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Whisky Galore! closed the Edinburgh film festival. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Within hours of attending the reception ­honouring its 70th edition at the castle, I was on a flying visit to the Outer Hebrides, inspired by one of the ­festival’s most high-profile ­premieres. The remake of Whisky Galore was an ­obvious choice for the EIFF to end its 70th year on – a revival of a ­classic Scottish story, complete with high-profile stars like Gregor Fisher, Eddie Izzard and James Cosmo.

Some 70 years after the original Ealing ­Studios comedy was filmed on Barra, Whisky Galore has become the latest film to come onto the radar of tourism agency VisitScotland. Like ­festival curtain-raiser Tommy’s Honour, a golfing drama focusing on the father-and-son relationship between two pioneering players, Whisky Galore involves an iconic national export, but has a story rooted in authenticity.

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The Politician pub on Eriskay is, of course, named after the cargo vessel that famously ran aground off the island in 1941 – before its inhabitants helped themselves to some of the 26,000 cases of whisky on board.

It was quite something to (very carefully) hold one of these very bottles then hike up a hill for a breathtaking view of the very spot where disaster struck the ship. There are understandable reasons of finance and logistics why director Gillies Mackinnon did not bring the cameras crews back to Barra – or neighbouring Eriskay, where the real-life drama unfolded.

But the decision to take the shoot around ­different locations in Aberdeenshire, Fife, Greenock and Ayrshire has opened up even more set-jetting opportunities. Although the mid-1990s blockbusters Braveheart and Rob Roy sparked a huge wave of global interest in Scotland, the concept of “set-jetting” did not enter the lexicon of the tourism industry until around a decade ago, when The Da Vinci Code book sent visitor numbers at Rosslyn Chapel, Midlothian, soaring to unprecedented levels.

Since then, VisitScotland campaigns to capitalise on films and TV shows have been an 
ever-present element of the industry. These efforts culminated in the campaign to promote Scotland on the back of the fantasy series ­Outlander.

It went on air in the US in August 2014, just a few months before Scotland was named the world’s most cinematic destination. This prompted VisitScotland to produce its first ever nationwide guide to filming destinations. But after attending another EIFF event I discovered something of a glaring omission – the section devoted to the Highlands and Islands makes no mention of Gaelic drama series Bannan.

The three new episodes premiered at the festival were hugely impressive for their production values, the quality of the acting, the gritty story-lines and that all-important authenticity. Up there on the big screen were all the technicolour glories of Skye – captured by crew who have been specially trained on the island.

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The 13 previous episodes have only been screened on BBC Alba to date, but that will soon change if hugely-ambitious Skye-based producer Christopher Young, best known for hit comedy The Inbetweeners, has his way.

With another series commissioned, Bannan clearly has at least a couple more years left in it – plenty of time for “Scotland’s answer to Borgen” to get its own spell in the set-jetting limelight.