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The good, the Bard and the ugly; Let us tell Rabbie's tale our way.

AFTER the Oscar- grabbing success of Shakespeare In Tights - sorry, Shakespeare In Love - it was inevitable that the movie spotlight would eventually turn to our own Bard.

Americans can't get enough of our wonderful history, mostly because they haven't got any of their own.

No Saint Columba, Roman invasion, Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie or Massacre of Glencoe for them. Oh, no.

Their idea of a great moment in history is a couple of geezers chucking their Tetley tea bags off the pier head in Boston.

The only real history America ever had, the native Indian, was systematically slaughtered or starved. And if that's not ethnic cleansing, my name's Tonto.

So they borrow our glorious past and, to be fair, that's not really a problem. Just so long as they return it in the same condition they received it.

I mean, look what happened when we loaned them William Wallace. They gave us back Braveheart.

Some people are surprised that Hollywood has never tackled the subject of Burns before. I'm not one of them.

It's simple. To tell Rabbie's life story properly, you would need to use lengthy tracts of his writings.

And that wouldn't go down too well with your average popcorn guzzler in the back stalls at the CinePlex, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. "When chapman billies leave the street" is wonderful writing, but it's never going to beat "Go on punk, make my day" as a piece of cinematic folklore.

Subtitles, like they did with Trainspotting in America, would be hopeless.

"Yestreen, when to the trembling string the dance gaed thro the lichted ha'

The only good news about this proposed Burns: The Movie is that it's going to be produced by James Cosmo, one of our finest actors and a man who truly understands The Bard and his works.

The bad news is that the budget is coming in at pounds 20 million plus. And only an infusion of US dollars can raise that kind of dosh.

Just who would do Rabbie justice on screen is another problem.

Where is James Cosmo going to find a hard-drinking, womanising freemason? Although, if Rangers win tomorrow, the streets of Glasgow will be choked with them.

Robert Carlyle is said to be in the frame and he'd be a natural Burns - if a little too small. Mind you, Mel Gibson played Wallace - and he's five feet two with his hands in the air.

Throw in Rikki Fulton - Scotland's best ever drunk - as Tam O' Shanter, Elaine C. Smith as Jean Armour and Sean Connery as Holy Willie and Mr Cosmo has the makings of something great.

But the producer says he wants to concentrate on Burns love affair with Agnes McElhose, the 'Clarinda' to Burns' 'Sylvander'.

We could end up with The Forsythe Saga meets Upstairs Downstairs - lots of intense dialogue in a Morningside drawing room with the clop of horse and carriage on the cobbles outside.

It might be romantic, period drama. But it's not Burns.

The life, work, loves and death of Robert Burns is the greatest story cinema has never told.

And that's something that an event like The Millennium should remedy. It may not win Oscars, or pack out the Cineplex in Jackson Hole, but it would be there for our grandchildren to enjoy.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Shields, Bob
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:May 1, 1999
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