Coming soon at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse is a rare chance to see The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil, filmed by the BBC in 1974 as part of their Play for Today strand and an adaptation of the infamous Scottish play of the same name.
Written by John McGrath and starring such talents as Bill Paterson, John Bett and Alex Norton, the play was originally staged by the 7:84 Theatre Company (so called because of the fact that 84% of Scotland’s wealth is held by 7% of the population).
The play compares the Highland Clearances and the ownership of Scottish land by the gentry with the hot topic (in the early 1970s at least) of US ownership of Scotland’s oil fields and wonders why the country always seems to be under someone else’s rule.
I watched the film earlier this year at the BFI Mediatheque in London and was impressed by its energy, wit and satirical edge. The original play was toured around the country in small villages and towns and this version seems to have been filmed in some of those places, real locals watching the show take place.
The story is told in music and dramatic re-enactments, with footage from (then) present day Scotland inserted into the stage show.
Though some of the new footage feels slightly heavy handed, overall this is a fascinating and hard hitting film which deserves to be seen again.
With my own heritage rooted very much in the Highlands, it’s always interesting to see a new take on the Clearances and this film certainly has a unique view on the country’s situation.
I’m not aware of any VHS or DVD release of Cheviot and I don’t ever recall it being repeated on BBC television, so this is about as rare a screening you’ll find – take the opportunity while you can.
Visit the Filmhouse website for full details of their screening.