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Film Studies: National Cinemas

This guide highlights selected resources for various national cinemas.

Introduction to Scottish cinema

The first display of the Edison Kinetoscope recorded in Scotland was in Edinburgh on 24 December 1894, and the first projected moving images (most likely of Robert W. Paul’s and Birt Acres’s Kineoptikon) were demonstrated in Edinburgh on 13 April 1896. Cinema complemented a strong local music-hall tradition, and with dedicated film theatres appearing from 1909, Scotland became an important part of the British exhibition market, with marginally higher attendances north of the border than south (see britain, film in). From the 1910s the British film industry established itself in and around London, though some topical and actuality films had been made in Scotland, including a recording of Queen Victoria’s meeting with Tsar Nicholas II of Russia at Balmoral in 1896. The first Scottish feature film was Rob Roy (Arthur Vivian, 1911) and the earliest surviving feature is Mairi—the Romance of a Highland Maiden (Andrew Paterson, 1912): these films, along with a five-reel adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped (George Terwilliger, US, 1917), are early examples of ‘tartanry’: the term refers to a romantic image of 18th-century Scotland traceable to the novels of Sir Walter Scott, and carries strong emphasis on local custom and costume, on chivalric code, and on the Highlander as noble savage.

Although this early period saw some Scottish-based filmmaking—by companies such as Greens and Scottish Film Productions—these were on a very small scale, and none survived the transition to synchronized sound. In the 1920s and 1930s, a number of Scots established themselves in the burgeoning British film industry. The best known of them is John Grierson, founder of the British Documentary Film Movement, who insisted that his energetic and influential filmmakers ‘looked northwards’; and many films were made by Scots (like Harry Watt) and on Scottish themes. Less known but no less influential is John Maxwell, who ran one of Britain’s most successful film studios, the Associated British Picture Corporation, from the 1930s to the 1970s. With no local film production to speak of, Scotland appeared as a backdrop in a large number of British and US films. The ‘tartanry’ tradition remained a staple, but was now joined by a cycle of films informed by a literary genre called ‘kailyard’, in which Scotland is portrayed as an isolated and insular parochial country made up of small towns and small islands within which local intrigue and homespun wisdom prevail. In US films such as The Little Minister (Richard Wallace, 1934) and Bonnie Scotland (James W. Horn, 1935), and in the British films Whisky Galore! (Alexander Mackendrick, 1949), Laxdale Hall (John Eldridge, 1952), and The Maggie (Alexander Mackendrick, 1954), groups of villagers and islanders defeat the forces of government and big business thanks to their irresistible charm and native cunning. Another key theme was ‘Clydesideism’: British films such as Red Ensign (Michael Powell, 1934), Shipyard Sally (Monty Banks, 1939), and Floodtide (Frederick Wilson, 1949), set in and around Glasgow at the height of the shipbuilding industry in the 1930s and 1940s, mythologized industrial Scotland.   ...

Kuhn, A., & Westwell, G. (2020). Scotland, film in. In A Dictionary of Film Studies. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 18 Aug. 2022

Introductory reading(s)

Selected book titles

Other library resource(s)

Finding scholarly articles and journals

You can find scholarly literature for Scottish film studies in a variety of journals. However, if you want to do targeted searching, you can use a subject specific database such as Film & Television Literature Index. You can also use the search box at the top of the page.

Selected movie titles

Find more Scottish films in the library's online catalog.

Internet resource(s)