Restless Natives Review

Restless Natives (1985) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin


Director: Michael Hofftman
Writer: Ninian Dunnett
Stars: Vincent Friell, , Joe Mullaney, Teri Lally, Ned Beatty, Robert Urquhart

Coming from Scotland and growing up throughout the 1980’s it would be almost a crime to say that you never saw “Restless Natives” or even claim to not knowing of its existence. What I am trying to say is this movie caught the eye of the nation and perhaps our neighbouring countries. Internationally this slipped under the radar and would only serve as a nostalgia trip for expats and maybe big fans of Bernard Hill or Ned Beatty.

I’m not for a minute slating “Restless Natives” in any shape or form. In fact it is one of my favourite Scottish movies for its simple story, characters, it’s humour and an outstanding soundtrack that makes you feel proud to be Scottish. I first saw this movie around 1986 when I was 10 and have revisited it many times since it was released just over 30 years ago.

The story about Will (Friell) a road sweeper with the corporation (City Council) and his friend Ronnie (Mullaney) who works in a novelty and jokes shop at the end of the line in their “professions” and in general their lives that are heading nowhere. Will still living with his parents is under constant scrutiny from his Father played by the brilliant Bernard Hill on what he plans to do with his life and Ronnie is just plainly fed up with the physical abuse he receives from irate mothers who have suffered and being on the end of some practical jokes that Ronnie has sold to their children.

The short end of it all is these two early twenty year olds have had enough of the system and crave a more successful and meaningful life. Hence the Clown and Wolfman are born. Disguised as these characters their aim is to rob from tourists on coach trips in the most remote places in the Scottish Highlands for personal gain financially and publicly. Although it isn’t until Will’s father points out the attention unknowingly to him that a report of their first hit reached the local newspapers to Will’s Fathers amusement and to a startled Will. Ronnie appears to be more comfortable with his new fame and wants to go on to bigger and better things in the criminal underworld (there are some great scenes involving the late Mel Smith and the late Iain McColl). Will on the other hand finds love on their next hit in the form of coach hostess Margo (Lally) there is an instant connection between them. The trouble is how does he show his feelings under the guise of the Wolfman?

Hot on their tails is Scotland’s finest under the lead of Chief Inspector Baird (Robert Urquhart) and his team pursuing the bandits and involuntary assisted by Bender from the CIA who happens to be on holiday in Scotland. Played by the legendary Ned Beatty it is only a matter of time before the law catch up with the Clown and the Wolfman’s antics.

Restless Natives to me is an enjoyable and very funny film. Vincent Friell and Joe Mullaney are great in their roles as Will and Ronnie and make this film enjoyable to watch. Relatively unknown before this movie both actors are surprisingly comfortable as the main characters and supported by Bernard Hill, Robert Urquhart and Ned Beatty only emphasises the actors capabilities on handling their roles in their interactions with the more seasoned actors. Teri Lally similar to Friell and Mullaney in humour only appeared as a shop assistant previous to this movie in Bill Forsyth’s “Comfort and Joy” and doesn’t look out of place as Will’s love interest and more importantly the sensible one who grounds the trio throughout.

Director Michael Hoffman would go on to work on more notable roles in 1996’s “One Fine Day” and “The Best of Me” in 2014. But it’s this movie I remember him mostly for. The tone of this movie doesn’t take itself too seriously and neither should it. It’s a terrific little movie that has grown a cult following over the past decades and people who were alive at the time remember it in one way or another and have a fondness for it. I think this is also down to the cinematography and soundtrack. Oliver Stapleton captures the beauty of the Scottish landscape and intersects this with the more bland and desperate reality of Will and Ronnie’s plight in their drab existence. But it is the scenery blended with Stuart Adamson’s haunting soundtrack that really puts this movie on another level. I can’t help but think of this film anytime I hear Big Country. They go hand in hand and the soundscape is a character within the movie.

Restless Natives to me is a bit of a nostalgia trip but more importantly it was made at a time before my teenage years and has a special place in my heart for its silliness and quite frankly it’s naivety. If you haven’t saw this movie I would give it ago as the time passes very quickly and to be honest you will want to stick around to see why the Clown and the Wolfman become myth and legend. Recommend.

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