Ah, Scotland. How I long to visit thee. From John o’ Groats to the Firth of Forth and all of the craggy peaks, castle ruins, pubs, churches, Pictish standing stones, and deep, dark lochs in between; the place is a veritable wonderland to me. Having that kind of bias surely doesn’t hurt the chances of a film who’s plot and setting just happen to be (would you guess?) Scotland.
Stone of Destiny is the story (based on true events) of a small group of Scottish nationalists who set out to return (or steal, depending on how you see it) Scotland’s greatest national symbol, the Stone of Scone, to its rightful place in Scotland. University student Ian Hamilton is tired of failed political attempts to restore home rule to Scotland, and he’s saddened that being Scottish in 1950’s Britain is something to be ashamed of rather than be proud of. He sets out, with the help of a friend, to give back his fellow Scots their pride. But in order to do that he must concoct a way to get the 336 lb. rock out of Westminster Abbey, in the heart of London, with no money, no car, and very little support.
Stone of Destiny continues on for a while like the typical heist film. Ian and his accomplice Bill Craig (played by the reliably jovial Billy Boyd of The Lord of the Rings fame) spend weeks planning the details of the heist, studying layouts of Westminster Abbey and its surrounding grounds, but when Ian decides to set the plan in motion, Bill gets cold feet and decides he has too much to lose to risk capture and imprisonment for what seems like a pipe dream.
With no help and no hope of bringing the Stone back by himself, Ian appeals to the politically active and well established John MacCormick (Robert Carlyle) for support. MacCormick is skeptical at first, but he eventually sets Ian back on track with new accomplices Kay Matheson (Kate Mara) and Gavin Vernon (Stephen McCole). Together the trio set out to do what others had only ever dreamed of doing.
Along the way we learn a bit of Scottish history, soak in the gorgeous, green Scottish countryside (including a scene of a train ride that looks like it was lifted from the Hogwarts Express part of one of the many Harry Potter films), and strain to understand the thick Scottish brogues of the characters.
Charlie Cox is charming and endearing as the determined nationalist Ian Hamilton, even if his Scottish accent does seem a bit dodgy at times. Kate Mara as the female accomplice-cum-love interest matches Cox’s charm and manages to pull of a strong female character without making a statement of it. Stephen McCole plays the typical hard-drinking, strong man out to prove he’s got a brain, but he’s likeable and adds to the comic moments in the movie.
Stone of Destiny isn’t an original story. You’ll recognize comedic bits and plot devices from a dozen other movies. Its spoon fed, hit-me-over-the-head, nationalist ideals are sometimes a little too obvious for my tastes, but this movie isn’t trying to be Michael Collins (yes, I know this one’s not about Scotland) or even the historically, um…romanticized Braveheart. Stone of Destiny is a cute, cheeky dramedy, and if you’re okay with a little bit of revisionism in your based-on-a-true-story movies and more than a little bit of convenient plot maneuvering, then you you should enjoy the film for what it is: a fun and sometimes inspiring film about the indomitable human spirit and the power of pride.
Kilted Kirk out.