The Films of Scotland Documentaries
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An Ancient Nation

"A Stern and Hardy Race"

Transformation and Continuity

The Discourse of Nationhood

Shots of transporting peat (above) and crofts (below) in the 'stern and hardy race' sequence from The Face of Scotland.

Beyond the Grampians
Beyond the Grampians (1963) provides another example of the way in which the documentaries represent labour as either an heroic struggle with the environment or an acquired skill.

The Face of Scotland

"A Stern and Hardy Race"

"Mountains, lochs, moors and marshes. Cold, cloudy, heavy with rain, it offered to its inhabitants only a meagre living from the faces of the braes, the roots of the hills, and the rough stony wastes. Coarse pasture for sheep, shallow soil for crops, heather for their roofs, and peat for their fuel.

The land that bred a stern and hardy race, toughened by the struggle for existence on its ungrateful soil." (The Face of Scotland)

The passage employs the ethnographic trope of creating an existential, rather than purely functional, relationship between the people and the landscape, that is not only explicitly stated in the narration ('toughened by the struggle for existence on its ungrateful soil'), but is also suggested by the inter-cutting between shots of the land, shots of its inhabitants, and shots of the tools they use. The film's conceptual field is therefore largely structured by a combination of 'organicism', 'the land that bred', and evolutionism, 'struggle for existence'.

In terms of the section's strategies, we might note two distinguishing features. Firstly, the figurative language 'meagre living', 'coarse pasture', 'stony wastes', presents a continuity with the previous passage, now adding a notion of overcoming hardship to the melancholia, heightened by the use of alliteration and repetitive sentence structure.

Secondly, there is the description of this cultural group as a 'race'. While we might note that the meaningfulness of race as a scientific category has been contested (cf. Solomos, 1993, p. 8), and that by the time Scotland could be classed as a nation it was composed of five distinct ethnic groups, it is clear that the documentary is working to represent Scotland as inhabited by a distinct cultural group. Melancholy is therefore represented as a general characteristic of this cultural group. This characteristic is best encapsulated by the Scots word 'dour', which suggests both the grimness of the land and the obstinate and stoical persistence of the Scots in forging a living from it.

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Author: Richard Butt Images are drawn from the SCRAN database.