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Category: Burns News
Article Date: April 9, 2005 | Publication: The Express | Author: DOC SHOWBIZ

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A NEW television drama which paints a somewhat unflattering portrait of Rabbie Burns has been quietly shelved by the BBC.

Loving Burns, which had Robert Carlyle, below, earmarked for the starring role, portrays the famous bard as a predator who sexually abused his pregnant lover, Jean Armour, and pelted her with horse manure.

It was to have been made by Ecosse Films, whose previous collaborations with BBC Scotland include screen hits Hamish Macbeth, Monarch of the Glen and Mrs Brown.

The iconoclastic Burns project, which dwells on the selfish nature and rapacious sexuality that drove the poet's life and work, is now gathering dust in a bottom drawer. Which leaves the way wide open for a 20million movie titled Burns, which starts filming in July with Phantom of the Opera star Gerard Butler growing his sideburns to play the poet as a kind of Elvis Presley cult figure.

And while this feature film also doesn't pull its punches in portraying Burns as a drunkard who fathered numerous children, in and out of wedlock, and slept with women across much of Scotland, his celebrity will be a key element of the story.

NOT quite the same as the ill-fated BBC version then, in which Burns is actually portrayed as being afraid of women who were anywhere near his intellectual equal, preferring the company of barmaids and milkmaids.

"It was initially felt that, in an age of sexual frankness, there was no longer any need to sanitise the image of Burns, " said a BBC source.

The drama, by Hamish Macbeth writer Daniel Boyle, offers a radical Burns and shatters the image of a literary hero who could only write poetry when he was in love. It argued that being in love for Burns meant just the sexual conquest of women and not knowing what the word "love" meant.

The source said: "There was much contention and debate over the script. It cut beneath the mythology that Burns sent Mary Campbell, or Highland Mary, to Greenock to wait on him as they were planning to flee to the West Indies after being hounded by the family of Jean Armour.

"In the interim he becomes famous but forgets all about her and she succumbs to a fatal illness. He had the choice to make between fame and the woman he loved, so he chose fame.

"When she dies and he can't write poetry anymore, he turns to songwriting as a slightly less arduous task.

But his fame was brief. He was never able to write as well as he had done again.

"While the script took some poetic licence, some of it is based on fact, particularly the abuse of Jean Armour, after which Burns even wrote to his pals and told them about it."

Hmm, you can see why a lot of purists would have gone crackers about that, but it seems that the BBC was planning to inflict on Scotland's most famous poet no more or less a fate than that meted out to Casanova in their big new hit drama series, currently screening Mondays on BBC1.


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