Restless Natives review – classic Scottish comedy is a reminder of a sweeter era

A gleeful sense of humour powers Michael Hoffman’s 1985 crime caper, part of Scotland’s cinematic response to Thatcherism

“Guns are for LASSIES! Nobody seems to put the BOOT in any more!” This rousing manifesto for muscular non-armed crime of the traditional sort comes from one of the hardened villains that surreally pop up in this intensely likable Scottish caper from 1985, with a soundtrack from Big Country. It was part of a boom in Britmovie comedy of the era when Scotland was becoming caustically alienated from Thatcherite England, and which gave us Bill Forsyth’s Gregory’s Girl, Comfort and Joy and Local Hero. The script from Ninian Dunnett was originally the winning entry of a screenwriting competition (Dunnett in fact wrote no more for the screen after this, and became an author and social historian) and it was directed by the anglophile and caledonophile American Michael Hoffman.

Joe Mullaney plays Ronnie, a likely Edinburgh lad who works in a joke shop, like Miranda Hart. He and his nervy mate Will (Vincent Friell) decide they’re sick of being poor and resolve to tour around the countryside on their motorbike, in a clown and wolfman disguise, robbing tourist buses – which they do so politely that they become folk heroes. Bryan Forbes and Nanette Newman provide cameos as a grumpy English couple who assume they’re a student “rag week” stunt and fob them off with one of the big 50p coins of the day.

But when the lads’ criminal career takes off, a mean American cop over here on holiday, played by Ned Beatty, gets on their trail with his flashy big mobile phone (“It’s the Man from UNCLE!” giggle the local officers) and tension emerges between the two bandits. Will finds himself romantically involved with Margot (Teri Lally), a tour guide on a bus he’d just stuck up, and Ronnie falls in some with serious villains, led by a deadpan Mel Smith. Kids keep cropping up in the action – unsentimental and unimpressed by both the cops and the robbers. It’s the kind of gentle and yet sweetly funny use of children that British cinema just doesn’t do any more. Ronnie and Will are in some ways innocent forerunners of Renton, Spud et al in Trainspotting, and also a prototype Wallace and Gromit.

  • Released on 1 March on digital platforms.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Finding Steve McQueen review – heist comedy can't locate its charisma
The story of a real-life bank robbery by a lookalike of the Bullitt star gets a pretty shallow and unmemorable treatment

Cath Clarke

11, Nov, 2020 @2:00 PM

Article image
The Hustle review – Anne Hathaway kills the comedy in dire scam caper
A gender-switch reboot of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels co-starring Rebel Wilson is catastrophically unfunny

Peter Bradshaw

09, May, 2019 @4:00 PM

Article image
I Blame Society review – film-maker turns serial killer in uneven black comedy
Sometimes funny, often annoying, director Gillian Wallace Horvat’s film tells us what happens when your script is rejected one time too many

Peter Bradshaw

13, Apr, 2021 @4:00 PM

Article image
Night School is first comedy to top UK box office in 2018
Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish land the top spot with their straight-ahead comedy, while Close’s Oscar-tipped The Wife scores well

Charles Gant

02, Oct, 2018 @3:13 PM

Article image
Schemers review – the rise and rise of Dave Mclean, rock promoter
One boy’s climb from disco organiser to Scottish entertainment kingpin – directed by the man himself – contains battered sausages but needed more bite

Phil Hoad

23, Sep, 2020 @12:00 PM

Article image
Bad Santa 2 review – same old dirty tricks
Billy Bob Thornton returns in a belated sequel that wrings occasional snickers from a patchy script

Mike McCahill

24, Nov, 2016 @10:30 PM

Article image
Slack Bay review – hilarious high jinks on the beach
Bruno Dumont’s wacky, macabre crime comedy, starring Juliette Binoche and Fabrice Luchini, is very strange and very funny

Peter Bradshaw

15, Jun, 2017 @9:00 AM

Article image
The Lovebirds review – wacky Netflix murder-mystery romance
Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani play a couple forced to run for their lives in Michael Showalter’s likably lewd screwball crime caper

Peter Bradshaw

20, May, 2020 @2:00 PM

Article image
Blue Iguana review – deadpan wisecracking with MacGuffery galore
This middling crime comedy, starring Sam Rockwell, is overly pleased with itself but has colourful turns by an assortment of British character actors

Leslie Felperin

03, Oct, 2018 @4:00 PM

Article image
The House That Jack Built review – self-congratulatory serial-killer gorefest
Matt Dillon plays an architect turned murderer in Lars von Trier’s latest provocation, which plays out with the director’s customary humourlessness

Peter Bradshaw

14, Dec, 2018 @9:38 AM