His­to­rian on en­dur­ing fas­ci­na­tion of fam­i­lies at war

The Sunday Post (Inverness) - - THE ISSUES - By Bill Gibb [email protected]

If peo­ple like Mafia shows such as The So­pra­nos, they will love the blood-soaked machi­na­tions of Scot­land’s clans, ac­cord­ing to Neil Oliver. The his­to­rian and broad­caster is fronting a new three-part TV se­ries, Rise Of The Clans, and says it is has fired his pas­sion for the past like noth­ing else in al­most a decade.

“I am so ex­cited, it’s bril­liant,” said Neil. “Not since A His­tory Of Scot­land in 2009 has any­thing felt re­motely like this.

“Peo­ple who are in­ter­ested in the past will know about Bruce, and Mary Ste­wart’s rise and fall.

“But I didn’t get Scot­tish his­tory at school and I think there are a cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions at least that are adrift of de­tailed knowl­edge.

“What’s re­fresh­ing about this is that it’s from the point of view of the clans and it tells how they ma­nip­u­lated, or at least had to be taken into ac­count, by the kings and queens.

“The clans were at each other’s throats, so you have Mafia God­fa­thers cir­cling each other, like in The So­pra­nos. “They were al­ways vy­ing for con­trol and try­ing to get the up­per hand by back­ing the right side in royal dis­putes.

“You start to see the kings and queens be­ing vul­ner­a­ble to the Machi­avel­lian be­hav­iour of clan chiefs. “There was no way a king could rule with­out giv­ing at­ten­tion to what they wanted,” says Neil. “It makes it all seem mod­ern as it’s po­lit­i­cal and there are fac­tions and sides ma­nip­u­lat­ing sit­u­a­tions for their own self­ish ends. “Very of­ten no one seems to be think­ing about the na­tional well­be­ing. It’s all about the clans and the kings be­ing, in essence, just an­other clan chief.

“It looked for a long time, for ex­am­ple, that Robert was never go­ing to be a suc­cess­ful, in­de­pen­dent king and he was very nearly run out of town.”

Bruce’s tale, told re­cently in Out­law King, holds time­less fas­ci­na­tion ac­cord­ing to Neil be­cause of his com­plex­ity. He was much more than a quin­tes­sen­tial heroic fig­ure fight­ing for in­de­pen­dence; ut­terly ruth­less in the lengths to which he was pre­pared to go to se­cure the king­dom, but also tor­tured by what he’d done and the per­sonal losses he’d suf­fered.

And that retelling in Out­law King, as well as the Out­lander books and TV se­ries, are find­ing a global au­di­ence. “Out­lander has en­sured there is in­ter­na­tional in­ter­est in all things Ja­co­bite,” said Neil.

“I was at Culloden the week be­fore last, on not a nice day, and the vis­i­tor

Robert the Bruce was nearly run out of town

– Neil Oliver

cen­tre and bat­tle­field were so busy. You heard ac­cents from all over the world. “When we were do­ing the Rise Of The Clans at places like Falk­land Palace, Black­ness Cas­tle or up in the Gar­gun­nock Hills, we were al­ways hear­ing that Out­law King and Out­lander had been there film­ing.

“That has led to a con­stant stream of tourists want­ing to touch base with the places they recog­nise.”

And the on­go­ing as­so­ci­a­tion with a de­bate about Scot­land’s in­de­pen­dence is also feed­ing into the fas­ci­na­tion with the past.

“This is a very dy­namic pe­riod for in­ter­est in Scot­tish his­tory,” said Neil.

Ac­tor David Pais­ley plays Robert the Bruce in Rise Of The Clans but Falkirk­born David had no idea whose shoes he’d be step­ping in to.

“It’s in­tim­i­dat­ing to be cast as some­one so iconic, one of the most recog­nis­able fig­ures in our his­tory,” said David. “When I au­di­tioned, though, they sent me a page of di­a­logue with no in­di­ca­tion of who it was.

“I just read the words into a cam­era, and they cast me, still with­out say­ing. I showed up to meet the di­rec­tor on the first day, asked who I was and he told me I was Robert the Bruce.

“That’s when I got ter­ri­fied, think­ing about how I was go­ing to have to ap­pear to lead an army into bat­tle.” David, who has ap­peared in Holby City and River City, was soon steeped in the pe­riod, thanks to bat­tle re-en­act­ment ex­perts who had worked on the Out­law King, which had Hol­ly­wood star Chris Pine play­ing Bruce.

They helped to school David in fight­ing tech­niques and sword­play.

“It was like all my child­hood dreams com­ing true,” said David.

“You’re run­ning in a field with a stick as a sword, fight­ing your broth­ers and now you’re do­ing that on a much gran­der scale. I loved it, al­though they gave me a big rub­ber sword to keep it safe.”

The first episode looks at how clans ral­lied be­hind Bruce and how, af­ter the crush­ing vic­tory at the Bat­tle of Ban­nock­burn in 1314, he re­warded them with land and ti­tles.

The sec­ond in­ves­ti­gates how Clan Ste­wart rose to be­come Scot­land’s Royal dy­nasty with the story cul­mi­nat­ing with the as­sas­si­na­tion of King James 1 in Perth.

And the third and fi­nal part re­veals the plot against Mary, Queen of Scots and the con­vo­luted al­liances and be­tray­als that lead to the mur­der of her hus­band, Lord Darn­ley, and her even­tual es­cape to Eng­land.

Rise Of The Clans is a change of pace for David who spent two years as Ben Saun­ders in Holby City and an­other two years as Rory Mur­doch in River City.

“I re­ally didn’t en­joy my time on Holby as I’d moved to Lon­don, which is a big, un­friendly city and I didn’t have many friends there,” said David. “When it ended I was quite happy, whereas I ab­so­lutely loved River City be­cause there was so much more of a com­mu­nity feel.”

David’s one big re­gret over Rise Of The Clans is that his mum, award­win­ning au­thor, Janet Pais­ley, didn’t get to see him in it. She died from can­cer just last month.

“Two of her nov­els were his­tor­i­cal fic­tion and she par­tic­u­larly looked at fe­male char­ac­ters.

“We spoke a lot about it and she was very proud of what I was do­ing and I was very proud of what she had writ­ten.

“I just wish I’d had a chance to show her what I’d done. It would have been great for her to see that but, un­for­tu­nately, we didn’t have the time.”

But his mum’s pas­sion and his own re­search into Bruce and the times ahead of film­ing, reaf­firmed David’s his­tor­i­cal in­ter­est.

“Scot­tish his­tory is so rich and so full of in­ter­est­ing sto­ries which in­ter­sect with world his­tory,” adds David.

“I found look­ing at Bruce fas­ci­nat­ing as his life was con­stantly on the line.”

Rise Of The Clans, BBC1

An il­lus­tra­tion by Jill Calder from Robert The Bruce, King of Scots, re­veals the vi­tal sta­tis­tics at

Ban­nock­burn when Robert the Bruce took on Ed­ward II on June 24, 1314

His­tor­i­cal char­ac­ters like The Bruce, top, and Mary Queen of Scots, left played by Saoirse Ro­nan in up­com­ing film still fas­ci­nate

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