Hollywood has long specialised in the cod-Celtic but Shona Mooney’s authentic, soulful folk reclaimed this one for Scotland!
Her score had been commissioned for the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema to accompany this film’s re-emergence after a crisp restoration by U.S. Library of Congress and the show came thundering down to England to strike a blow for the Highlands just a few hundred yards from where William Wallace was executed in 1305 (Smithfield, just outside Barts…).
|Tha wee bonnie lassie, Lillian|
The film is loosely based on the legendary rivalry between the Scottish clans of MacDonald and Campbell which resulted in the Massacre of Glencoe of 12th February 1692.
|Some men in kilts|
The MacDonald Chieftain (Hobart Bosworth) calls on his son Ian (Norman Kerry with an odd moustache and a strange shirt with plunging neckline… they did realise how cold it is in Scotland didn’t they?!) to extract revenge and heads off with his men to steal the Campbell cattle and the life of one of their men – “A Campbell for a MacDonald!” he cries as he dumps the body in the mix of their evening revels.
|Norman Kerry and Lillian Gish|
Negotiation takes weeks and, by the time the clans gather to return Enid, she has fallen for her handsome captor and refuses to return. The Campbell Chieftain (Brandon Hurst) curses her, her lover and their first born: feelings are running high.
|Enid and Annie|
Donald is not quite the lute playing fop he appears though and opinion on just exactly who is the barbarian must be suspended pending further data.
|Lillian Gish and Creighton Hale|
As relations thaw all round, Ian and Annie dance at a coming together of the clans and Donald’s jealousy rises up a notch or three. Walking together Annie and Ian are surrounded by Duncan and his men, Ian calls on her to leave the Campbells but she isn’t ready and after she leaves, Donald’s boys subject Ian to a walk through a tunnel made by their raised swords. As he walks through they strike his back, flaying his skin and leaving deep scars, Annie runs back to intervene and there are some excellent shots of her panicked face through the steel.
|Annie really likes the 'tache|
Events now begin to broaden in scope as the Campbells look to find favour with the English King and to outmanoeuvre the MacDonalds. Annie hears of their plot to take the latter’s land with the monarch’s help if the MacDonalds refuse to sign a new agreement and rushes off to warn Ian. But will the man ever sober up enough to drop his grudge against her and in time to prevent the Campbells not only taking their land but their lives as that fateful day in Glencoe approaches…
|Annie pleads with unyielding Campbells|
The experience was elevated from an interesting to exciting one by the genuinely uplifting, intelligent and precise composition of Shona Mooney. Shona played the fiddle and was accompanied by Alasdair Paul on guitar and flute as well as Amy Thatcher in accordion and piano. This well-drilled group played very tightly along with the action with energy and invention.
|Amy Thatcher, Shona Mooney + Alasdair Paul|
If you get the chance to see the film with Shona’s accompaniment I wouldn’t hesitate and it is to be hoped that the combination gets more opportunities to show how the unique combinations of silent film and fresh music can move an audience.
More details of Shona Mooney’s music are on her site. She has had a very active career since winning the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year in 2006 recording numerous albums and touring the World. She specialised in Eighteenth Century Scottish music and so her affinity with Annie Laurie is not surprising: more authentic, in fact, than the Californian scenery and title card dialect used in the film…
*Off screen her mother had been taken ill and Gish confessed to being less involved in her preparation for this film than in say La Bohème (1926) or The Wind. It’s no bad thing – in terms of the film – as she gives a relaxed, naturalistic performance and is more lighthearted as a result.