BFS Video // 2011 // 204 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Josh Rode (Retired) // September 17th, 2011
Exploring scenic Scotland with the legendary Tom Weir.
For decades, Tom Weir showed up on Scotland's televisions to showcase the back roads, glens, villages, and people of his country. Five years after his death, STV Productions has put together an array of episodes from his various television incarnations, cleaned them up as best they could, and released them on DVD.
Tom Weir clearly loves Scotland and everything associated with it, from the brittle cold of far north Lerwick to the forested lowlands of Inchcailloch. In eight episodes of varying lengths, we follow him as he hikes the hills, interviews fishermen, hunters, and conservationists, and follows Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Tom is at his best when it's just him and the camera. He's not a great interviewer, and he's even worse at editing his interviews, so most of them go on much longer than necessary. Still, there's no denying the power of real people speaking honestly, and that's what Tom gets when people talk to him. The episodes in Scotland Explored: Weir's Way, Set One are generally engaging, and there's no doubt you will learn a lot, but they are a bit inconsistent in terms of quality, length, and entertainment value.
* "Eriskay" -- Eriskay is an island off the Western coast of Scotland proper. Tom interviews a fisherman who would clearly rather be anywhere but in front of a camera. Actually, that's not true: he'd pick the camera over being on his boat. The main thrust of his interview is that he hates fishing and hopes his large brood of children will find something -- anything -- else to do with their lives. Then Tom shows us an island that is best known for having contained a hidden cache of 20,000 cases of whiskey during World War II. The people were still angry about the government confiscating the bulk of it thirty years after the fact.
* "Lerwick and Noss Island" -- Lerwick is another island, this one far north of Scotland. So far north, in fact, that the residents are still bitter about being conquered by the Scots several centuries ago and attempt to keep their heritage alive by teaching their native language in the schools and keeping as many local customs as possible. Unfortunately for them, they will never be independent again, since they are one of the closest British outposts to the rich North Sea oil deposits. Nearby Noss Island is (or was, in the Seventies) inhabited mostly by sea birds and the conservationists who try to keep them flourishing.
* "North East Scotland" -- This episode focuses on the towns of Gardenstown and Pennen, which share both the northeastern coast of Scotland and the same fate: they were once flourishing fishing centers but have been reduced to relying mostly on tourism to stay alive. Tom visits people he met on a stop twenty years prior, including former elementary school students. Only one still lives there, and another says she would never think of moving back.
* "The Rough Bounds" -- The first of two episodes that track the flight of Bonnie Prince Charlie after the debacle at Culloden. These episodes work as excellent companion pieces for anyone who has read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. For the sake of episodic context, Prince Charlie tried to lead an uprising of the Highland clans back in 1745 (referred to by Weir as "the 45") but ran out of money, food, and supplies just in time for a battle in Culloden, which is now part of Inverness. The Scots were wiped out, Charlie ran for his life, and the English began a scorching crusade that decimated the Highland clans. Weir emphasizes the loyalty of the Highlanders to the Bonnie Prince as, time after time, they sacrificed themselves to get him to safety. "The Rough Bounds" details Charlie's flight through the untamed lands between Culloden and the sea, only to be chased back inland.
* "The Seven Men" -- The second half of Bonnie Prince Charlie's retreat takes us over much of the same ground the poor guy covered in his initial flight. This episode focuses on seven Highland men who did all they could to keep the English from decimating the Highlands and, once they discovered that Charlie was still alive, dedicated themselves to getting him to safety.
* "Roman Village" -- Edinburgh is highlighted as a crossroads between the past and the present. Well, "present" circa 1981. Tom shows us Roman stonework that has been re-commissioned in other buildings and a keep from the eighteenth century that once played host to Chopin and is now a community center.
* "Inchcailloch" -- Inchcailloch is an island in Loch Lomond. Tom takes an extended tour of the island and he and the audience get a rather long-winded tourism spiel about its uniqueness, natural beauty, and important place in Scottish geography; since it sits directly over the fault line that creates the geological division between the Scottish highlands and lowlands.
* "Glen Affric" -- Tom travels to what amounts to the center point of Scotland in the dead of winter to survey a wild land that was nearly destroyed when the government dammed up the glens. Instead of destruction, however, the area has thrived thanks to hard work by foresters who have replanted the trees that got stripped away and who keep control of the deer population.
All in all, Scotland Explored: Weir's Way, Set One is a really fun show. Tom brings such enthusiasm to everything he does -- from hiking the desolate glens to talking to a sullen fisherman -- that you can't help but get caught up in his world. Each episode manages to go in an unexpected direction at least once; it's much like you're doing the exploring yourself, except you don't have to leave the couch.
The series warns at the very beginning that the age and type of film used back in the day may cause some scenes to fail to be up to "current standards," and it isn't a lie. There is never anything so grainy that it is difficult to see, but the video quality varies from episode to episode, with overall blanched colors. The most recent episode is this series was filmed in 1982, so be prepared for some interesting clothing and hair styles. The audio is likewise variable, with wind making an occasional muting pass over the microphone and distance between Tom and the camera becoming an issue from time to time. Unfortunately, there are no extras. I would have liked to see something that gave an inkling about where things stand regarding some of the places the show visited. Maybe they saved that for the next series. Another unfortunate omission is subtitles; although everyone except the teacher in Lerwick speaks English, many of the Scottish accents are difficult to understand.
It is somewhat disconcerting to watch Tom trek mile after mile with no seeming effort, when I can no longer climb four flights of stairs without losing my breath. But that's a "me" problem; I'm just jealous.
Tom Weir loves his native land and watching this will inspire a bit of Highland fondness in you, too. Sometimes a little dry, Scotland Explored: Weir's Way, Set One is never uninformative, even if some of the information is thirty years out of date. With his genuine brogue and evident joy in what he's talking about, Tom is a pleasure to listen to.
Och, th' show's nae guilty, aye?
Review content copyright © 2011 Josh Rode; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BFS Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 204 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Visit Scotland