Jonny Lee Miller plays real life cycling champion Graeme Obree, who broke four world records on a bicycle that he designed himself made from spare parts.
The Flying Scotsman does not stray far from genre convention. This is the story of a cycle courier whose sheer determination was enough to win him four world records. That he did so on a bike of his own design, which he cobbled together with spare parts from a washing machine while managing bouts of depression, makes his story the stuff of legend. Graeme Obree is played by a dour Jonny Lee Miller, who drops his mannered style to convincingly portray the troubled man. As a bullied youngster, Obree found escape on a bicycle he got for Christmas; it provided a sense of flight that would ultimately become a way of life for him as a troubled adult. The fact that Obree could turn crippling self-doubt to his advantage with such spectacular results makes this story unique.
Director Douglas Mackinnon wisely steers away from the cheery tone of similar can-do films like On A Clear Day, as The Flying Scotsman balances Obree’s personal battles with those he faced on the racetrack. It’s not always successful – Steven Berkoff as a roguish World Cycling Federation official hits an off-note, as do a few scenes played for comic relief. Mackinnon is on much safer ground when dealing with Obree’s stubborn resolve and illness, managing both with visual and aural flair. More importantly, he does so with sincerity. Secondary relationships with Obree’s wife, manager and a sympathetic minister (Brian Cox) add weight without sentimentality.
The Flying Scotsman is not just a film for cycling enthusiasts – it’s a much bigger story than that. And while Mackinnon keeps the narrative in familiar territory, he does so with enough honesty and integrity to satisfy.