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Forget love and roses . . . it's the 'red, red' Burns

Category: Burns News
Article Date: January 25, 2005 | Publication: The Herald (Glasgow) | Author: MARTYN McLAUGHLIN

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GOING EAST: Michael E Rodgers as Burns in the film, which may be shown in Russia. Picture: Palm Tree FAMOUS LOVE: Lucy Russell as Jean Armour in Red Rose.

AN independent Scottish film which explores the support of Robert Burns for political revolution and his adulterous affairs is to be broadcast on Russia's largest television channel.

Red Rose, the first feature based on Burns's life in more than 50 years, was made by Palm Tree Productions, an Ayrshire-based film company. It tells the story of the poet's fall from eighteenth-century polite society and depicts his liaison with Maria Riddell, a married aristocrat.

The film is currently on limited release at cinemas in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Kilmarnock, and the production company hopes it will gain a UK-wide distribution deal.

However, Palm Tree is currently in negotiations with Channel One, Russia's largest state-controlled television channel, to screen the film.

The producers believe they have more success in agreeing international distribution deals with broadcasters as far afield as Russia, Canada and Turkey, pointing to a "culture of fear" in Scotland's artistic community which prevents writers and film-makers from reinterpreting the Bard's legacy.

The company, based in Mauchline, is also in talks to hold a New York presentation of Red Rose in April to commemorate Tartan Day. With its own in-house sales and distribution network, Palm Tree is working to meet demands from inquiries the world over for DVDs of the film.

It is in Russia, however, that the company feels Red Rose will find its most appreciative audience. Mairi Sutherland, writer and producer of the feature, believes Russians recognise themselves in Burns.

She said: "Burns is a socialist icon in Russia. The people admire his politics and can share his strong agrarian roots.

"It's quite strange in a way that this small independently financed film could soon be viewed by millions of Russians on Channel One, but we're all delighted."

Annabel Kohler, marketing manager for VisitScotland's eastern Europe division, said ordinary Russians are knowledgeable of Burns's heritage through the state education system and will enjoy Red Rose.

She said: "Burns is really popular in Russia. They study Scottish poetry in schools and the people admire the beauty of the language of his poetry.

"A private airline launched a service from Moscow to Edinburgh last year and they're looking to expand the frequency of flights because so many Russians want to visit Burns's home country."

As the voice of the Kremlin, Channel One attracted international condemnation for its overtly biased reporting of the Beslan school atrocity. While news channels across the world reported the firefight between hostage-takers and special forces at a critical point in the siege, Channel One's 140 million viewers were offered Die Hard, the Bruce Willis film in which a policeman is trapped inside a building, fending off terrorists.

Red Rose, which stars Michael E Rodgers as the poet and Lucy Russell as Jean Armour, is the first Burns film since 1947's Comin' Thro the Rye, when the Bard was played by Terence Alexander, better known as Charlie Hungerford, the retired millionaire in Bergerac. It is a gap that Palm Tree Productions laments and hopes will not be repeated.

"I think the problem is that everyone is scared of touching the Burns legacy, " said Ms Sutherland. "He's an icon and like Shakespeare for the English and Washington for the Americans, there's a cultural fear of being accused of misinterpreting the legend. But the only way the heritage of Burns can live on is through artistic interpretation, not drunken sing-a-longs of Auld Lang Syne where people don't realise they're hollering Burns's words.

"Anyone wanting to present a portrait of Burns faces a block in Scotland. His reputation is seen as sacred and there's a demand for any view to be historically accurate.

"We've taken a bash at it with Red Rose - it's by no means a full picture of Burns.

"Burns demands reinvention. People abroad recognise he's an everyman. His life goes beyond politics and represents the light of progress."


Red Rose was screened at the Monaco International Film Festival last year, where Rebecca Palmer, who plays Maria Riddell, won the Angel award for best actress.

The most famous depiction of Robert Burns is that of John Cairney. The actor first interpreted the poet's life in Tom Wright's 1965 play, There Was A Man.

A biopic of the Bard's life, made by James Cosmo's company Alloway Films and starring Gerard Butler, is in pre-production.

Two other Burns biopics have foundered recently. A planned feature from David Hayman, the director, has made little progress, while a script by Danny Boyle was abandoned by Ecosse.


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