Restless Natives Review
Restless Natives has enjoyed cult status practically since it was made. A small British-funded film, it never achieved widespread release, has long been out of print on video and has generally been circulated among its fans in prints taken from all-too-rare late-night television showings. It’s a pity that the film hasn’t been more widely seen, since its humour and attitude – although very much a product of the mid-eighties – has a simple, quirky charm and a family-friendly approach that would certainly appeal to a larger audience.
Will Bryce (Vincent Friell) has had enough of brushing up rubbish in Edinburgh’s Prince’s Street Park, even though he is told by his father (Bernard Hill) that he is “lucky to have a job”. His friend Ronnie (Joe Mullaney) works in a shop that sells practical jokes, which doesn’t make him very popular with the mother of one of his best/worst young customers. The two young men reckon they can do better than this and – getting over Will’s pangs of conscience and his concerns about the cost to the hard-working taxpayer – they set off on a life of crime. Acquiring weapons – toys guns of course, from a couple of kids on a street corner – they take off on the road on Ronnie’s bike wearing masks, holding up busloads of American tourists in the Scottish Highlands. Very politely, of course. They soon make it bigger than something really, really big, as Clown and Wolfman become notorious and dashing highwaymen – stealing from the rich because they are poor, but eventually giving in to Will’s conscience (as well as fears of getting caught on a motorbike without any helmets) – and distributing the money like modern day Robin Hoods – or Rob Roys, if you prefer. Will catches the eye of Margo (Terri Lally), a pretty young lassie who is a tour-guide on one of the buses and Ronnie starts to enjoy the fame of being a celebrity criminal a bit too much, so when the local police tighten the net – pressured by politicians and an American from the Central Intelligence Bureau (Ned Beatty) with a personal vendetta against them – it starts to look like the end for The Clown and The Wolfman.
Restless Natives works very much within that particular self-deprecating humour of British filmmaking and Scottish television programming – favouring the underdog whilst making fun of authority figures and anyone with ideas above their station. In this case the target is very much the Thatcherite model of big-business interests and enterprise. Following Norman Tebbitt’s patronising advice, our two young heroes get on their bike and find a very enterprising and lucrative career in the tourist industry. While the attitudes are very much a product of the mid-eighties in this respect (Thatcher is specifically alluded to and gets a metaphorical as well as a literal kicking in a robbery scene that makes use of a mask of the then Prime Minister), the film nevertheless taps into a vein of humour that Scottish television has continued to mine successfully in such programmes as Rab C. Nesbitt and The High Life, poking fun at fleecing “our friends from abroad” who come over to Scotland to gawk at the colourful characters and quaint traditions – (this fertile ground for humour continues to bear fruit in one of the skits in Little Britain’s first television series). Restless Natives however is careful to strike a balance between poking fun at dumb Americans in a good-natured way (the director is himself American) and appealing to them at the same time as The Clown and The Wolfman make their getaways across and the rolling hills of Glencoe into gloriously photographed highland sunsets, all scored to the highland fling of Big Country’s rousing soundtrack.
Where the film works most effectively however is in the gentle charm of the small-time crooks routine, getting the viewer rooting for the underdog – using inexperienced actors for that extra natural credibility – stretching the story into quirky surrealism without overstepping the mark of credibility too much (like the similarly effective Local Hero, which I must confess I also have a certain fondness for), in such scenes as the police making photo-fits of the masked criminals, a Japanese film crew chasing the duo them through the highlands and the very silly final showdown for The Clown and The Wolfman. It’s all a little too neatly packaged and wraps everything up a little too conveniently and improbably – but when the film wins you over to its side with its innocent charm, I don’t think you would really want it any other way.
Restless Natives is released on UK Region 2 DVD by Optimum …and about time too.
Happily, the image quality of the print on this release is great. It’s clear and fairly sharp and there is not a mark on the print. No grain either. Colour levels are excellent and the transfer even handles darker scenes with good contrast balance and a fair amount of detail. The picture is possibly a little light or faded – colours occasionally look a little pastel and skin tones are a bit creamy-pink, but this is a minor quibble. There is no evidence of any digital artefacts or technical issues with the transfer. The image is stable throughout and there are no macro-blocking artefacts or edge enhancement. The film is presented anamoprhically at 1.78:1 on a single-layer DVD-5 disc and this seems to be more than adequate. You couldn’t really expect the film to look much better than this.
The audio track is also fairly robust – presented in the original Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo – which is good news particularly for Big Country fans, whose appropriate mid-eighties Celtic-rock soundtrack drives the film through some of the memorable chase sequences. At higher volumes though it does tend to crackle and the bass can be a little bit booming, but generally it’s clear and strong, particularly on dialogue.
There are no subtitles unfortunately for anyone who is hard of hearing or confused by some of the Scottish colloquialisms.
An Interview with Vincent Friell (6:44)
Filmed for BBC Four’s ‘The DVD Collection’, in between clips from the film, Friell reminisces on the making of the film and eighties fashions, happy to see the film revived after 21 years. The film clips contain spoilers – something ‘The DVD Collection’ does rather too often.
The whole eighties look and feel of the film hasn’t aged well, but as a bit of harmless family-movie entertainment, Restless Natives is better than most British movies of its kind and it has more than a few little moments of quirky and surreal humour that still stand-up well. It’s certainly about time it made an appearance on DVD and there can be few complaints about the quality of Optimum’s UK Region 2 release. A fine anamorphic widescreen transfer is all that is needed and that’s what we’ve got here, with a short interview thrown in as a bonus. This will make a lot of people very happy.