'Flying Scotsman' pedals along, missing top gear

Posted: May 04, 2007

There aren't a lot of great cycling movies out there. Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thief is about the lack of one, and about poverty, and fathers and sons. Breaking Away, Peter Yates' unpretentious '70s buddy pic, revolves around a bike race competition - it holds up pretty well.

But where entire genres are devoted to the automobile, to boats, planes - to running, even - where are the bike flicks?

The Flying Scotsman, a biopic of Graeme Obree, the Scottish cyclist who broke all sorts of records in the 1990s, is one. It's not a classic, although it sticks to a classic sports movie formula: maverick underdog overcomes obstacles - personal and professional - to win trophies and prove himself worthy.

Jonny Lee Miller, the square-jawed Trainspotting alumni, stars as Obree - a Scottish bike mechanic and messenger. With a supportive wife (Laura Fraser), a mumbling best friend (Billy Boyd - Pippin the Hobbit in The Lord of the Rings) and a tweedy, taciturn patron (Brian Cox), Obree trains and trains, and cannibalizes the washing machine for parts for his radical redesign of a track bike.

Directed by Douglas Mackinnon, The Flying Scotsman boasts exciting competitive track cycling footage (one race was shot by the real Obree, riding a bike mounted with a camera). It is less successful dealing with the mental illness (depression? bipolar disorder?) that haunted Obree almost as much as his dreams of riding and racing.


The Flying Scotsman *** (out of four stars)

Directed by Douglas Mackinnon, written by John Brown, Declan Hughes and Simon Rose, photography by Gavin Finney, distributed by MGM Pictures. With Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Boyd, Laura Fraser and Brian Cox.

Running time: 1 hour, 50 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (profanity, adult themes)

Playing at: area theaters


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.

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