True-to-life stories can be a bit of a mixed bag. Let’s be frank: many are downright depressing. On some occasions, the resulting screen adaptation can be a bit too true, miring down the story in more factual details than were absolutely necessary. Other times, they tend to obviously take some artistic license with the manner in which reality truly unfolded, and audiences are told this is sometimes necessary in order to make the story truly ‘cinematic.’ I’ve no way of knowing how much of STONE OF DESTINY is fact or fiction, but I can tell you I enjoyed the presentation from start to finish in a way I usually don’t embrace heartwarming, fact-based dramas.
(NOTE: the following review will contain minor spoilers necessarily solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
College student Ian Hamilton (played by Charlie Cox) has been bitten by the bug – not the flu bug, that is, but a sense of national pride. He’s a true Scotsman at a time (in 1950) when Scots felt more than a bit micromanaged by the English. One day, he comes up with a scheme – he and a few college mates are going to break into Britain’s Westminster Abbey to steal the Stone of Scone. 700 years earlier, the Brits had taken the rock upon which Scottish kings had been sworn into their offices for centuries, and it became a symbol of an oppressed people. If he and his friends (played by the lovely Kate Mara, Stephen McCole, Ciaron Kelly, and Billy Boyd) could get it back, Ian believed they could ignite a spark that would cause Scottish pride to catch fire.
Therein lies the rub …
STONE OF DESTINY is a great caper, complete with the requisite planning, failure, and retooling that goes hand-in-hand with all great capers; and it’s all told with a tremendous sense of respect to both peoples – the English and the Scots – involved. The film is written and directed by screen veteran Charles Martin Smith, adapted from the novel, “The Taking of the Stone of Destiny,” written by the real-life Hamilton himself (who appears in a brief cameo). Narratively, the story is structured much like a three-act play – the first act is the set-up, the second is the heist, and the third is the resolution – and it works marvelously. Given Smith’s long tenure in and around Hollywood projects, he brings a world of experience to making the film work as effortlessly as it does. It’s the kind of easy, breezy storytelling I wish more films would emulate.
There’s a bit of everything thrown into the welcome mix. Each of these college men (and a woman) has something to prove, be it to themselves or their fellows students or their families, so each has a different reason for wanting to participate in the heist. There’s even a hint of budding romance between Cox and Mara’s characters that feels maybe not as organic as it should but is entirely in keeping with the ‘making their dreams come true’ theme of the film. You’re never quite certain how they’ll but it off, but, thankfully, it all ends up being the kind of stand-up-and-cheer experience sorely missing from cineplexes these days. (Hollywood, take notice!)
Furthermore, STONE OF DESTINY has garnered some great praise, though it’s only finding US distribution now in 2013 (which is shocking, if you ask me). In 2008, it was nominated for Best Feature Film at the BAFTA Scotland Awards. In 2009, it won the Leo for Best Picture Editing but was also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Direction, Best Feature (Drama), Best Sound, and Best Screenwriting. That year, it also won Best Director at the Palm Beach International Film Festival, and it won “Audience Favorite” at the Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival (Canada).
It’s the kind of quick flick that’s easily likeable, and it should leave you with a smile on your face. Plus, it’s entirely kid-friendly.
STONE OF DESTINY is produced by Infinity Features Entertainment, The Mob Film Company, Alliance Films, Telefilm Canada, and a whole host of others (seriously, check out IMDB.com if you don’t believe me). DVD distribution is being handled through Green Apple Entertainment. As for the technical specifications, the film looks and sounds terrific; as for the sound mix, I had to crank down my two back channels as the musical track accompaniment seemed a bit loud for my tastes (just saying). That’s what a 2.0 Dolby Digital track will do for you. Also, be warned: these are some thick Scottish accents, and, while the picture doesn’t have a subtitling track, my TV’s audio system had some trouble ‘interpreting’ a few speeches. Sadly, the disc comes with no special features except for the theatrical trailer. Shame on you, filmmakers! Shame!
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. THE STONE OF DESTINY is nothing but a delight. Granted, it’s ‘After School Special’ mentality might put off some audiences – there’s nominal swearing, and, despite the fact that they’re all thieves, you’ve no doubt all of their hearts are in the right place – but given the fact that its inspiring story transcends borders – maybe even you’ll want to be a Scotsman after watching it – I’ll give it a free pass. Besides, it’s based on a true story, so it can’t be all that bad.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Green Apple Entertainment provided me with a DVD screener for the expressed purposes of completing this review.