Drowning out the Bruce

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Recently, Scottish social media discovered that the Cineworld chain of movie theatres won’t be showing the new film about the life of Scotland’s great hero, Robert the Bruce. The Robert the Bruce movie will not be screened in any of the UK’s biggest cinema chain’s outlets, meaning that in many Scottish towns and cities movie viewers will be deprived of the chance to see it.

The decision provoked an outcry. The film deals with a crucial and important part of Scottish history, the restoration and reestablishment of this country’s independence after military occupation by the forces of the English monarchy, and the securing of Scottish independence for the next four hundred years. The complex and fascinating character of Robert the Bruce is one of Scotland’s greatest national heroes. I’ve not seen this new movie about him, but it has received positive reviews and it seems that it is not afraid to examine the Bruce as a human being with his frailties, complexities and negative characteristics intact, and not to reduce him to a one dimensional action hero in the Holywood blockbuster mould.

So naturally it was deeply disappointing that the country’s largest cinema chain took the decision not to screen the film. Scotland is a country which is cut off from its history, many Scots report that Scottish history was not covered during their schooldays. Many more of us could name the English monarchs of the middle ages than could name the occupants of the Scottish throne at the same time.

However the regrettable decision not to show the film didn’t just produce a demand from its potential Scottish audience to see it, it also produced a slew of dark and muttering conspiracy theories. There were rumours that the film was the subject of a D notice from the British government. There were mutterings from some that since the decision was allegedly taken by the chain’s owner, who lives in Israel, that there was some nefarious deal between the British state and the Israeli government as though a cinema in Aberdeen was the bombardment of the Gaza strip.

There is no D notice. The rumour was started by a Scottish journalist who posted about a D notice on Twitter as a joke. Other people took him seriously, and before you knew it hundreds of people were convinced that Scottish history was being censored by the British state. That’s not how D notices work. If there really was a D notice, the film wouldn’t be being screened by Cineworld’s competitors, the Odeon chain. Instead, every copy of it would have been seized by the police. But it is being shown in Odeon cinemas.

Indulging in conspiracy theories without overwhelming evidence does the independence movement no favours. It risks making us come across as tinfoil hatted nutjobs. It repels the soft noes and undecided voters that we need to attract in order to attain independence. Remember the scientific rule of thumb, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The fact is that despite the authoritarian and anti-democratic tendencies of the Conservative party, we do not live in a one party state. We still have freedom of speech. If you want to claim that the state is actively censoring a work of art, a movie, you need compelling evidence. There is no such compelling evidence here. The suspicions of people who are speculating on Twitter don’t count.

By far the most plausible explanation is that a UK wide movie chain took the commercial decision not to screen an independently made and produced film which deals with the life of a man who is unknown to the vast majority of people in the UK. People in England don’t know much about Robert the Bruce, and for the most part they are not interested in watching a film which shows England as the bad guys. Commercially, this film is not a good prospect for a movie chain which produces the large majority of its revenues from bums on seats in English cinemas. The company is going to make a lot more money from showing Toystory 4, the new Lion King film, or the new Spiderman movie.

The real lesson to take from this affair is not that Scotland is being censored by the British state. It’s not that there are deep and dark state conspiracies to do Scotland’s cinematic representation down. It’s not surprising that some leapt to that conclusion, given that we learned after the independence referendum in 2014 that David Cameron had intervened to ask TV broadcasters not to show the Outlander series during the referendum campaign. But even he didn’t resort to a D notice.

The real lesson here is that independence is necessary not just because Scotland is poorly served by the British government, it’s that Scotland is also poorly served by UK wide companies which don’t have a head office in Scotland and which don’t make Scotland specific decisions. A company which is UK wide and whose revenues are largely derived from its activities in England, because the English market is so much larger, took a commercial decision not to screen a movie which is unlikely to be popular with an English audience. Moreover that movie is being released at the same time as the huge multi-million Holywood blockbusters are being released, movies which represent a much better commercial bet for a cinema chain.

What happened is that the interests of a Scottish audience were not taken into account, because as a UK-wide company there is no head office in Scotland with control over the company’s Scottish activities. At best there’s a branch regional office. What has happened with Cineworld is very similar to Tesco’s decision to plaster union flags all over their produce. That’s a decision which is non-political in England, where it plays well, but which in Scotland is deeply political and which antagonises as many if not more than it attracts. The sensibilities and concerns of the Scottish consumer are drowned out in a company which operates on a UK-wide basis.

With independence, Scotland would cease to be a mere region of a UK wide company. Then a company would need to have a Scottish head office because Scotland would be an independent country with distinct laws, tax regimes, and regulatory authorities. Scotland could no longer be treated as an adjunct to the company’s north of England operations. The Scottish head office would be in charge of the company’s operations within the territory of an independent Scottish state and would therefore be in a position to make decisions which will make the company’s products or services appeal to the distinct interests, culture, concerns, and sensibilities of the Scottish consumer.

That would mean that a cinema chain would be able to make a commercial decision about what movies to screen based on its assessment of what might appeal to Scottish movie goers, and not those which appeal to a generalised UK average cinema goer. It would immensely strengthen the Scottish film industry as it would assist Scottish made and produced movies to find their audience. A Scottish audience would like to have the chance to watch Scottish movies, but a UK company making commercial decisions on a UK-wide basis has no real commercial interest in giving them that chance.

What the regrettable Cineworld decision teaches us is not that Scotland is being censored, it’s that within the UK Scotland is being drowned out.

42 comments on “Drowning out the Bruce

  1. While I agree that this is ostensibly a commercial decision, Paul, I wonder why a ‘Scottish’ movie is considered such poison given the success of ‘Braveheart’, ‘Outlander’, ‘Rob Roy’ and Tartan TV Shortbread like ‘Monarch of the Glen’ and why the potential of ‘Son of Braveheart’ did not influence this chain’s Marketing executive.

    Some of us are old enough to recall the destruction of ‘Scotch On The Rocks’, after one airing.
    It portrayed the rebellious Scots as armed terrorists, so burn the negatives.

    I seem to recall that the Blue and Red Tories have a lot of ‘Friends of Israel’ in their ranks.
    I queried this before and it went down like a lead balloon.

    I’ve watched too much Yes Minister and the Thick of It not to believe that the Yoons may have made a phone call or two.
    I also remember that Blair McDougall successfully coerced STV into cancelling a repeat run of Iain McWhirter’s excellent 3 parter, ‘The Road to the Referendum’

    I admire your attempt at level headed reasoning on this.
    But, I can’t agree 100% that it was because it wouldn’t make money.

    After all, the Odeon is running with it.

    • John says:

      Our Odeon is running with it at 9.30pm.

    • Keith Roberts says:

      Ah, Jack, remind me once again who wrote Scotch on the Rocks?

      • The Eton and Cambridge educated son of generations of privilege, one Douglas Hurd, now 89 year old Lord Hurd, or in keeping with the previous thread on Johnson’s scatological classification of the French race, Lord Douglas Turd.
        A Scottish Liberation Army marching on Fort William?
        Couldn’t happen, could It?

    • Wallace Traill says:

      According to Wikipedia, episodes 1, 4, and 5 of ‘Scotch On The Rocks’ still survive in BBC archives.
      Yet another example of ‘more cock-up than conspiracy’.

  2. Robert Graham says:

    Well we will never know who or what prompted the decision not to screen this movie , it might just be a coincidence it was discussed on Alex Salmonds latest show on RT , if you believe in coincidences .
    Conspiracies are just that ,conspiracies until proven otherwise , given the track record of this English government I believe i can safely say their dirty grubby fingers are in there somewhere ,
    The same way that any actor who professes support for independence suddenly finds they are persona non grata , NRB not required back was used on the rigs to stop agitators causing trouble , it’s there and it’s used in the background and anyone who raises suspicion is immediately branded a nutter , its very hard to prove because its always well hidden .
    Do I believe this government are involved ” You bet I do ” until proven otherwise .

  3. Millsy says:

    I can understand the commercial priorities expressed by Cineworld , but in this day of Multiplexes why is it not possible to screen ‘Bruce’ in a smaller auditorium in busy English venues . There is no commercial reason for NOT screening the movie in Cineworld outlets north of the border .
    Many independent/Art house loss-making films are regularly shown in multiplexes , why should a film about a Scottish hero not be given equal consideration ?

  4. Andy Anderson says:

    Odean Cinema chain is showing the Bruce.

  5. andrew mccoll says:

    Spot on. As ever Paul. As I said tae ye 5 year ago at the Glasgow Concert Hall, Ian Bell will be reaching oot his grave tae pass ye the baton.

  6. orri says:

    The real story about the ban on Outlander is that Sony contacted Cameron and offered to withhold it and threatened future filming in the UK if his government didn’t capitulate on legislation that effectively bans people making backup copies of the media they buy or storing it online. There’s letters online that show what was discussed.

    It’s possible Cameron may additionally have leant on the BBC as co-producers though. Especially as, at least in the first season, it was made by the same people as made The Tudors. Would certainly explain the documentary shown a year or so later on BBC One Scotland re counting the history of previous dramas set in Scotland’s past.

    So Cameron wasn’t as strong as a simple banning might indicate. He was desperate enough to restrict the freedom of everyone in the UK.

  7. Anne Martin says:

    This will actually be nothing but good for the film. Say that we can’t watch/listen to something and immediately everybody wants it!

  8. deelsdugs says:

    A logical argument Paul, but like the other comments, the movie world is political. However, the information is much appreciated, but we’re all a bit weary of the cunning and nastiness of the powers to be.
    And I would not put it past the string pullers to tighten the noose around it. BFI, and Forsyth Hardy in the 70s were none too keen for the screening of the first Bill Douglas production as it was ‘never going to put bums on seats’, it portrayed real post WW2 life in East Lothian, dark, brutal and poverty stricken – no sugared petticoat tail shortbread of Brigadoon there – merely luck with a stand in director sifting through scripts who suggested a rethink and The Trilogy.

    Then at the movies…The brainwashing anthem pre every movie was hellish. Remember that one folks…urgh.

    • Terry callachan says:

      As others have said
      I don’t agree either
      You don’t need proof
      We are not in court
      It’s not a conspiracy theory we already know what dirty tricks play out against Scottish independence amongst politicians and businesses in U.K.
      Anything that looks suspicious should be called suspicious we don’t need proof that the Britnats are warring against Scottish independence we see it on tv everyday

      • weegingerdug says:

        You ALWAYS need proof. Otherwise you’re dealing with feelz and not facts.

        • weegingerdug says:

          To elaborate – the statement that there was a deliberate conspiracy at the behest of agents of the British government to censor this movie is an assertion of a factual objective reality. That requires proof. It does not become true merely because you wish it to be true or because in your estimation it is plausible. You need proof. You need evidence. Your feelings are not evidence.

  9. Willie John says:

    You touched on D notices. In light of Boris’s “English” parliament would/should D notices apply to Scotland?

  10. grizebard says:

    Right on the button there, Paul. The mere fact that a London-based organisation with its attention focussed elsewhere will always find it expedient to ignore us and our interests is fundamentally the reason for taking all our power back home, and as things are going, getting it done as a matter of some urgency.

    There doesn’t have to be any other reason, but even if there were hundreds, that one reason is The One, and quite sufficent. The sooner we get that understood by those whose heads – wittingly or unwittingly – are still buried in the sand, the faster we will be free. Everything else is just a distraction, unproductive or counterproductive white noise.

  11. Mike Jeffress says:

    WRT to your comment about Scottish history NOT being covered in the normal run of syllabuses, how many Scots are aware of the Highlands and Islands Medical Service (HIMS)?

    This came about in the Parliamentary debate on the budget of 1909, which introduced, amongst other things, the Old Age Pension. It also introduced a scheme whereby those unable to afford a doctor could go to a (privately owned) hospital and get basic medical care. The Perthshire (Tory) MP John Dewar (he of White Label Whisky fame) said it was a great idea but would not work for those in Perthshire, since it could take up to 3 days for a constituent in Kinlochrannoch to get to a hospital.

    And so HIMS was born. By 1929 there is the first recorded use of an aeroplane to take a patient to hospital. By 1933 HIMS had it’s own dedicated air ambulance.

    Why, oh why, are we not aware of this blue-print for the NHS?

  12. TSSS says:

    A Huge disappointment, I will boycott going to Cineworld from now on.

    I’m an 18th Great Grandson.

  13. smac1314 says:

    I have seen the film. It’s a very human portrayal of a man who was having a crisis of confidence and how his faith in Scotland was restored by the kindness of an ordinary family. Apart from needing a slightly tighter edit it’s a good film.
    The interesting thing is that the English are a distant enemy. Instead it shows how he was betrayed by some fellow Scots chasing English gold. It seems that it’s a theme throughout Scottish history all the way to the present day.
    Anyway it’s a good film. Prove Cineworld wrong by going to The Odeon and make it the success it deserves to be.

  14. I agree entirely about the use of stupid ‘jokes’ about D notices and such. I did not fall for it for one second, but others did, and it was an oddly revealing thing. But as for the hardly-existent Scottish film industry, well, that seems to exist more as a tourist adjunct now, with the SG wanting films made that just make Scotland a more popular tourist destination with basically American tourists. Aesthetically risible.

  15. Al Dossary says:

    100% with yours, and others comments here Paul. There is a dark and insidious hand at work in all aspects of the media industry.

    That a large part of that hand owes allegiance to a certain minority religion or middle eastern country is as undeniable as their influence in politics – whether it is the MSM owners, the xxxx friends if Israel or just the plain old drip, drip of anti-semitism directed to Corbyn.

    It is not however restricted to Scottish movies or shows. Many of the excellent but controversial “Play for Today” episodes received but one showing on the state propaganda channel and were promptly buried. Their crime – simply showing the Tory led dystopia that existed across the UK in it’s true light.

    I personally would love to see “United Kingdom” which has never been seen again save for one special screening that took place years ago down south.

    • grizebard says:

      Given what you go on to write, you can’t possibly have read and understood this article, otherwise you would realise that you are nowhere near “100%” with the author. (More like 0%.)

  16. Bob Lamont says:

    Chuckled when I read that D Notice comment over this film, that one outlet screens it instantly destroys the premise. To reveal the existence of the D Notice is in itself an offence, do not collect 200 pounds, Go directly to jail… The man down the pub probably referred to a Duh Notice…

    HMG tends to lean on those they seek to influence as the Boris Johnson “Turd” incident demonstrated, such political or commercial influences are understandings of the wink-wink variety. When they become public knowledge it is usually deliberate to change public perception, again the “Turd” elegantly so demonstrates during the Tory PM campaign.
    It is even possible the Cinema chain or distributor started the rumour to boost interest and thereby potential profits, politicians do not have a monopoly on subterfuge and manipulation…

  17. ArtyHetty says:

    I can’t remember which US president of days gone by said it, but it went something like, ‘if you sense a conspiracy is going on, think ten times worse’! I tend to go along with that.

    Thing is, a conspiracy is covert, so proof is nigh on impossible, and that’s the WHOLE point, to do what is necessary to fool the people into believing it’s about money, or there not being a big enough audience etc.

    I recall someone I knew, having come to live in Scotland from England for the job of curating art for the Commonwealth games in Scotland, they were travelling the globe to find artists to exhibit. I asked why not commission some Scottish artists? ‘Too perochial’ they said.

    Scotland’s culture has been and is undermined, this ban of the Bruce film is part of that agenda, quite simple really.

    It looks as though at least in Scotland it will be shown more widely now, but I also noticed the times at some cinemas were limited, and later at night. I really must go see it!

    • Bob Lamont says:

      We are surrounded by conspiracy for commercial and political reasons, but the leap to D Notices pointing at the Security Apparatus acting for political motives over a film is nuts.

      I completely agree with your second point over misconceived perceptions of Scotland and it’s arts in your example, but this is typical false superiority and bias against Scots living in Brigadoon.
      English and British are deemed interchangeable in the press, less a conscious agenda than an irritatingly bad habit, some even refer to the Union flag as English.
      English tour agents still irritate Scots, Irish and Welsh on holiday in announcing “Any English here?”, then try to fob it off as “meant British” when the family from Paisley etc. growl.
      That ignorance is quite different to the insidious campaign to have the Union flag plastered across UK products to erase the hitherto increasingly successful Scottish brand. I hope Scots boycott it losing companies money, who then demand compensation from HMG.

      Only once Scotland is independent can our distinct culture and identity be universally recognised, even in England.

      • Bob, I dipped into BBC Breakfast to catch the weather forecast (Up Here; cold windy, rain.
        But cheer up, Wimbers has started and it’s all strawberries and cream, camping out overnight, the plebs queuing for three days to get a ticket to see Roger, and so on)

        By happenstance, I found myself catching an item on police assaults by members of the public
        Apparently, there is an assault on a police officer every 20 minutes ‘in the UK’.
        They meant of course, England and Wales, not the UK as a whole.

        An ex police officer, and a serving one, were interviewed in the studio, and funding cuts and a damning cut in the police force of 20,000 officers since 2010, the Coalition Years, was blamed in part, for the dramatic rise in members of the public attacking the police.
        Now any poor soul, especially the over 65 No Voters Up Here, who are not anoraks like us, would assume that the Scottish Force has been cut by the Scottish Government.

        The ‘National’ BBC lied, deliberately misled, and lumped Cameron’s and Clegg’s Austerity Cuts to Law and Order Down There in with Police Scotland Up Here, which of course is a separate distinctly Scottish Force funded by our own Scottish Government.
        It is deliberate misdirection, to mask how badly Johnson’s ‘English’ Parliament is performing compared with our Scottish Government’s record.

        It is unsurprising that the English Establishment would take any opportunity to airbrush Scotland from the map at every opportunity.
        Hence our suspicion of foul play when it comes to curtailing the Distribution of The Bruce.

      • Bob Lamont says:

        If indeed foul play is at hand over this film for whatever reason, the point remains that the D Notice is a non-starter. A word in an ear is the political MO, and leaves no evidence, a la Turd.
        Zero illusions as to the misdirection of the establishment and complicity of the media, when it comes to the Scots, suspicion and anger are inevitable, down south happily blinkered. QT?
        ALL English Emergency Services are envious how SG have coped by comparison, but the media are not about to open that can of worms with the SNP/Bad machine to feed. SG looks to public safety and welfare, WM looks at balance sheets, as one English PC put it.
        Roll on Indy2…

  18. Dave Llewelyn says:

    Just one wee thing on the Outlander Sony story. We would never have known about it if the major Sony hack had not released the information to Wikileaks who were the ones who made it public. There is no doubt that they are busy with the dark arts many that will never come to light but the whole D notice thing was risible in its content though given recent articles about secret propaganda. units in Fife and paid reporters you can see why it may have been a trap to grab less discerning cybernats. In that it certainly worked…

  19. Douglas Deans says:

    I agree that this was a commercial decision Paul and paranoia doesn’t help us.

    However, I’m not sure it was a clever commercial decision; perhaps the company simply isn’t flexible enough to make different choices for different countries. This centralisation leaves a gap for smaller more agile competition to target market segments. That’s why (while carefully keeping out of politics) some of the smaller supermarkets have benefited from supporting Scottish produce. I think the same applies with cinema.

    Without being petulant, we can exercise our choice -and the smarter businesses can benefit.

    In most of the world Saltire branding has a good chance of out performing a Union Flag. This is likely to become even clearer as Britain become more subject to ridicule.

  20. weegingerdug says:

    The National is reporting that Cineworld is after all going to screen the Robert the Bruce movie in five of its seven Scottish complexes. The change of heart comes as the company realises that there is a demand in Scotland to see the film.

    The original decision not to screen it was obviously cock up, not conspiracy.

  21. bjsalba says:

    Not absolutely sure but as far as I am aware D-Notices cover Defence Secrets NOT commercially produced films that will be shown in other parts of the world.

  22. bjsalba says:

    Further to my last comment

    There are currently eight general [kinds of] D Notices (which, incidentally, used to be secret information themselves, but were made public in 1982):

    Defence plans, operational capability, state of readiness and training
    Defence equipment
    Nuclear weapons and equipment
    Radio and radar transmissions
    Cyphers and communications
    British security and intelligence services
    War precautions and civil defence
    Photography etc. of defence establishments and installations

  23. TSSS says:

    Well for Cineworld to turn around and start making arrangements to start screening Robert the Bruce Movie at 5 out of 7 of their Scottish complexes as a change of heart, to say that they made a compromise but will still hold back not to screen at all their sets, doesn’t really get them off the hook when it comes to the bottom line . All I can say is that hidden beneath still lie the closet f*****ts, Westminster Nationalists etc, I see this as their propaganda machine getting it wrong.

  24. […] Whether it was Cineworld simply thinking a small-budget independent film like Robert the Bruce wouldn’t be cost effective on a UK-wide basis, or part of some Establishment leaning on the chain as happened with Outlander and David Cameron, the end result was the same – many communities in Scotland would have to travel further than their local cinema to see a film about one of the most important figures in their own history. Wee Ginger Dug has the right of it: […]

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