Restless Natives Blu-ray Review
Set in Edinburgh during the 80s reign of Margaret Thatcher and a harsh period of soaring unemployment, Restless Natives (1985) is a cheeky caper about a pair of underdogs who decide to mock the establishment. Best pals Will (Vincent Friell) and Ronnie (Joe Mullaney) are twenty-somethings who have grown increasingly frustrated with their dead-end lives. Unfulfilled Will has quit his job sweeping endless piles of litter in a local park, much to the disdain of his father (Bernard Hill), while Ronnie realises that working in a quaint little joke shop is never going to generate much income. All is about to change though, as determined Ronnie has a master plan that could make them both rich.
This ploy finds the lads donning novelty masks and heading off into the highlands on Ronnie’s motorcycle, where they awkwardly – but ever so politely - start to hold-up tour coaches armed only with sneezing powder (their own blend no less). The robberies might bring them easy cash, yet an uneasy Will frets about the implications, and whether doing bad things will give him warts as some form of punishment. To ease his conscience, the modern-day highwaymen begin distributing their new-found wealth amongst those needy in the local community.
Far from scaring away tourists with their exploits, the enigmatic Clown & Wolfman unexpectedly become local celebrities. Suddenly the world takes interest, including a gaggle of reporters from overseas, relentlessly hounding them for a scoop. Complications arise when big-hearted Will falls for pretty tour guide Margot (Terri Lally) and risks exposing their identities, while Ronnie starts mixing in the wrong circles. The film derives much humour from the fact that those behind the masks becomes the worst kept secret among the local children, although the authorities remain one step behind - and Will’s parents never seem any the wiser. There is an amusing running gag where a little girl stubbornly refuses to help police with their enquiries, no matter how hard they try to bribe her with sweets and toys.
The two leads are so engaging that it helps to overcome the fact that some other characters are not so richly observed. We find Ned Beatty awkwardly shoehorned into the story, presumably just to add more commercial appeal, as a holidaying CIA agent, determined to capture the duo after witnessing their escapades. Other familiar faces appear in pointless cameos, like funny man Mel Smith playing a crook, plus Nanette Newman as a hapless tourist with her husband Bryan Forbes. At least Hill, reliable as ever, manages to make more of his role despite a dodgy Scottish accent. There are plenty of moments in the film that made me laugh, though admittedly the dialogue could have been sharper at times.
The genesis of Restless Natives came when Ninian Dunnett, then a 23-year-old Scottish reporter, won a screenwriting competition organised by Lloyds Bank. This caught the attention of EMI Films, who agreed to provide funding and bring it to the big screen. Certain elements are clearly dated now, reflecting attitudes of the time – one sequence for example features a brazen dig at the then prime minister. American director Michael Hoffman – who went on to have a bigger career in Hollywood, manages to keep it moving at a brisk pace with a series of madcap chases that take us through the streets of Edinburgh, as well as showing off some beautiful highland scenery along the way, all set to a rousing score by Big Country’s Stuart Adamson. While not always hitting the right notes, the film retains a quirky charm that makes it thoroughly worthwhile.
Restless Natives makes its debut on blu-ray in a newly restored edition, courtesy of Studiocanal. Preserving the original 1.85:1 ratio, image quality is significantly sharper than previous DVD releases, really showing off that stunning location work around Glen Coe. Plenty of fine detail is evident in clothing, surrounding foliage and other accoutrements.
Audio provides the original 2.0 stereo mix, which is free from any defects and does a solid job delivering Big Country’s powerful 80s sound, while dialogue is distinct throughout. Subtitles are included.
Audio commentary with director Hoffman, writer Ninian Dunnett and producer Andy Patterson.
The decent selection of supplementary material includes 2 new featurettes from High Rising Productions:
A Restless Retrospective: Creating A Caledonian Classic (40:54) - Dunnett explains how Restless Natives came about, while director Hoffman and producer Patterson share their recollections about making the film on a most budget, including casting and scouting locations – along with the pitfalls of shooting on a bus. Also interviewed is star Vincent Friell, who provides some further context about the story. There are some fun anecdotes which will delight fans, particularly around how Beatty was persuaded to take a part in the film. Also mentioned is the film’s cult status in Scotland and its celebrity fans, despite being underappreciated elsewhere at the original time of release.
Soundtrack For A Not-so-big-country (15:54) - Big Country guitarist Bruce Watson talks about the band’s involvement, which came after they had just finished their second album. Hoffman explains how difficult it was to pin the band down during the film’s post-production, which ended up with him following them around on tour in Munich.
Behind the scenes stills gallery & trailer
Restless Natives is available on blu-ray, DVD & digital platforms on 1st March 2021.