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The Flying Scotsman

July 4, 2007

This biopic of Graeme Obree, former holder of the world 1 hour record (i.e. the man who travelled furthest on a bike in 1 hour) is full of flaws as a movie. The screenplay is clunky and the villains (centred on the then head of the World Cycling Federation who just happened to be German) are cartoony. It lacks the detail to appeal to diehard cycling fans, like info on his diet and nutrition, his riding style, gearing and cadence. And then it also struggles to show the real drama of cycling. (ASIDE: how come it’s almost impossible to make a bad movie about baseball, but football is the reverse. On cycling, American Flyers is redeemed by a stunning performance from a young David Gardiner! Belleville Rendez-Vous is brilliant though.) And it only really skims over his bipolar disorder. Lots of flaws. But what an inspiring story!

If you don’t know about this guy, all you need to know is that he emerged, almost from obscurity, on a home made bike, famously including parts from a washing machine, to break one of the hardest records in any sport. The previous record had stood for nine years and was held by an Italian, I think, who broke the record at altitude. Obree did it on a velodrome in Norway, during the 1993 Tour de France, just in advance of Chris Boardman on his computer designed bike that reputedly cost £500,000.

The record had previously been held by some of the giants of cycling, like Anquetil, Coppi and Merckx. Obree was a nobody from nowhere associated with cycling, and he was opposed by the games administrators who eventually outlawed his riding style.

The film is not going to tax the brain, nor lead to any startling new insights into the human condition, but it is an inspirational story of triumph against the odds, physical and emotional. Twice.  Obree deserves the rewriting of history that has been happening since his autobiography was published and the film released. If this wasn’t a true story, nobody would dare write or film such a fantastic feat.

Two great lines: "I couldn’t go out with a man who shaves his legs more than me!" That made me laugh…. nervously!

Then just before the credits, when updating us on the story, the screen reads: "Graeme now rides his bike for pleasure….mostly." There isn’t a retired competitive cyclist alive who could just ride a bike for pleasure.

From → Cycling

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