A fresh blu-ray and digital release for the first day of Spring 2021, Michael Hoffman’s free-wheeling cult classic has been a staple in its homeland since the days of VHS, much mutilated for television screenings in daytime slots, now restored to fine fettle on all formats. Fuelled by anger about the rule of UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Restless Natives took the whimsical charm of Bill Forsyth and moves it a stage further politically; the natives are restless with reason in Hoffman’s film, and Scots rise up by committing Robin Hood-style crimes which undermine the authorities, particularly since the tourists being robbed seem to love the experience. While not overtly reflective of any specific political movement, (there’s jokey references to the Scottish Liberation Group and the Caledonian National Front) Restless Natives is one of the better examples of the brief rush of Scottish movies in the 80’s.
Vincent Friell (Will) and Joe Mullaney (Ronnie) are industrious Edinburgh youths who find it hard to improve their lot; working out of a joke shop, they utilise masks and motorbikes to head into the Scottish countryside where they begin a campaign of wealth redistribution by robbing coach-loads of American tourists of their money, jewellery and valuables. Amongst their victims is imported US star Ned Beatty (Deliverance, Superman) as a CIA man, who joins forces with a gruff Scottish cop (Robert Urquhart) to bring the twosome to justice. Will’s dalliance with a feisty Scots lass (Teri Lally, the It girl of Scottish cinema of the time) threatens to blow their cover, but their fresh status as local heroes provides a cover for one last raid…
Restless Natives did good business in Scotland, largely because of a series of strong calculations. Ken Russell noted that British cinema drastically underused landscapes; Hoffamn makes no such error, and fully restored, Restless Natives looks stunning, capturing the area around Glencoe in full unspoiled majesty. Another savvy move was the use of a score by Big Country and Stuart Adamson, which ably matches the soaring visuals and lifts the film during the many cops and robbers chases, which are wisely played for laughs throughout. Hoffman’s career flourished beyond this in Hollywood (One Fine Day, The Last Station), and this re-issue features an audio commentary with Hoffman plus producer Andy Paterson and writer Ninian Dunnett, plus an engaging documentary about the film’s making, plus a trailer and stills.
Restless Natives may not be remembered quite as clearly as Gregory’s Girl or Local Hero, but it’s got a certain place in Scottish film history when making films wasn’t the preserve of unaccountable government agencies, and the successes and failures were largely due to actual enterprise. ‘I’m not into enterprise, just sticking the boot in,’ one character remarks; a football covered with a latex mask of Thatcher’s face tells you what you need to know about where Restless Natives was coming from. The central characters here may be dafties, but Restless Natives firmly expects the audience to root for them, and it could be argued the sub-text is embryonic Scottish nationalist, somewhat ahead of the game for the despairing times of 1985.
RESTLESS NATIVES is available to buy on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital from 1st March 2021.
Thanks to Lisa Richards PR and Studio Canal for access to this restoration.