Scottish Fiction in the Movies

In the first of our Blogs I covered Scottish history in the movies, but this week I am going to concentrate on Scottish Fiction in the Movies. To be precise, my look at Scottish Fiction in the Movies will focus on contemporary culture here in Scotland. It is an area in Scottish movies that writers have had so much to choose from whether it be the story of smugglers “cocking a snook” at the authorities, or about the drug culture of the central belt of Scotland that so nearly waylaid a whole generation of the 80s and 90s.

As always, you may have your own favourite movies that first introduced you to our culture. If they don’t appear in the five movies that I have profiled below, please don’t be disappointed. The movies that I have chosen are movies that struck a chord with me at different points in my life. From the days when my sister and I, as youngsters, would head along to the cinema for the Saturday matinee, to when I was dating as a teenager and I would head over to the cinema with my then girlfriend……hoping that the film choice was a good one. Here they are then in no particular order.


Whisky Galore was adapted from the book written by Compton Mackenzie. There are two versions of this movie with the first being released in 1949 and the second in 2016. It is always hard to beat the original of anything and every now and again this one is shown on terrestrial TV. 

The film is based on a true story when the ship the SS Politician floundered on the rocks off the Isle of Eriskay in 1941. On board were 50,000 cases of Whisky. In the movie the islanders of Todday circumvent the authorities and take great delight in smuggling the cases of whisky from the wrecked ship. It follows their attempts to free the valuable cargo and keep it out of the hands of the authorities. Much of the filming took place on the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. 


Ring of Bright Water is part of a trilogy written by Gavin Maxwell and if you haven’t read them, then they are definitely worth it. I was 9 years old when the movie was released. Our weekly tradition was to head to the small cinema of our local village on a Saturday. There we would watch the latest release at the afternoon matinee. 

This movie sticks so vividly in my mind because of the cheeky performance of Mij the otter who out acts Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna. The scenery, the wildlife, just the whole storyline hark back to a time when life was simpler and less hectic. If you manage to find a copy of this movie, be warned that it has a bitter sweet ending which at the time left many a young mind quite traumatised. 

It was mostly filmed on the West coast of Scotland around Oban and Ellanabeich.


Here is another classic movie that hints at a David and Goliath scenario. In this instance the conflict is based in a small fictional village called Ferness on the west coast of Scotland. Hot shot executive, “Mac” MacIntyre,  from a Houston based oil and gas company has been sent over to Scotland to buy the village and the land around it in order that they can build an oil refinery. 

The film follows Mac’s attempts to convince the villagers to sell up. Unknown to him they are in fact fed up with their hard life, but they feign indifference to push the price up. The longer Mac stays in the village, the more he becomes more conflicted about what will happen to the tranquillity of the area if the sale were to go ahead. 

An action film it is not. But the scenery, the characters, the Northern Lights and even “mermaids” more than make up for this. With a predominantly Scottish cast, producer David Puttnam’s achieved a major coup. He did this when he secured Burt Lancaster to play the part of the owner of the oil and gas company. 

Most of the filming was in the little Aberdeenshire coastal village of Pennan and the beach at Camsdarach near Mallaig.  Other locations included Arisaig, the Ben Nevis Distillery, Fort William, Lochaber and Moidart.


I personally never managed to relate to this film. But that’s maybe because it followed the exploits of a group of heroin addicts in a run down part of Edinburgh. Based on the novel written by Irvine Welsh, it was directed by none other than Danny Boyle. In it are some well known names such as Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller and Kevin McKidd. The movie went on to build a cult following, so much so that twenty years later there was a followup. 

As far as the British Film Institute were concerned they ranked it at No.10 in their Top 100 British Films of the 20th century. The film explored the seedier side of Edinburgh that tourists are most unlikely to visit. Despite the cooking up of heroin, the associated violence, the almost ‘out of body’ scenes while going cold turkey, the film takes advantage of some of Edinburgh’s city centre locations.  

The soundtrack for the movie is wide ranging but is well suited to the subject matter. The first genre of music is based on the 1970s and includes Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. Then there is the Britpop influence of the 90s with bands like Blur and Pulp. Mixed in amongst this is the techno-dance genre such as Underworld and Ice MC. 

Clearly the movie was a success as it grossed £12 million in the domestic UK market and $72 million in the international market. For a seven week filming schedule and a total budget of £1.5million it was a great return on investment. Watch this if you like your reality “real.”


This film is another personal favourite of mine. It didn’t get the recognition it deserved. Peter Mullan plays Frank who at the age of 55 is made redundant from the shipyard on the River Clyde that he has worked at for 36 years. 

Sinking into a deep depression and suffering a violent panic attack, Frank realises that he needs to find some focus in his life. 

After a “booze cruise” over the English Channel Frank makes a major decision. He decides that he will focus his efforts on swimming the English Channel. With the help of only his closest friends he begins training for this major challenge. His journey to reach his goal explores relationships along the way not just with his former colleagues but with his son and his wife. 

If you like your movie with a bit of hardship and sadness, but also a good dollop of Glaswegian humour along the way then this is a great movie to watch. 

If you are planning a visit to Scotland and want to include some of the locations from your favourite Scottish movies, then let us know. We can either build it into one of our core tours or you can choose our Custom Tour option. Take a look at our Tours page for further information.

Other Movies in this Category

  • When Eight Bells Toll
  • Shallow Grave
  • Gregory’s Girl
  • The Debt Collector
  • The Winter Guest
  • That Sinking Feeling
  • Sweet Sixteen
  • My Name is Joe