Still beating: Braveheart's lasting legacy in Glencoe

By Steven McKenzie
BBC Scotland Highlands and Islands reporter

Image caption,
David Cooper, pictured above on the set of Braveheart and in more recent times, says the 1993 production of the film has had a huge and postive effect on Lochaber

Twenty years ago a film crew pitched up in Glencoe to shoot scenes for Braveheart. One local resident who was recruited as an extra says the movie left a lasting impact on the area.

You wait years for a Hollywood blockbuster and then two come along at once.

In spring 1993 there was a period drama face-off below Glencoe's snow-capped hills as the filming of Rob Roy and Braveheart overlapped.

David Cooper recalls: "There was a bit of grumbling because the productions were having to share the same turf."

Rob Roy was United Artists' portrayal of 18th Century Scottish folk hero and outlaw Rob Roy MacGregor. It starred Liam Neeson in the title role.

Braveheart was Warner Bros' take on the history of 13-14th Century Scots warrior William Wallace. The film's leading man, Mel Gibson, was also in the director's chair.

Filming for Rob Roy soon finished and Glencoe and other parts of Lochaber, such as Glen Nevis, were left free to the Braveheart crew to roam.

Mr Cooper, who was chairman of what was then Lochaber and Fort William Tourist Board, was among locals who answered the Gibson production's call for extras.

He said: "I'd been an extra before and I did for a bit of fun.

"I went along and, because they were looking for people who could handle horses, I told them I could ride. It was a kind of half truth. I did go riding most Wednesdays in the glen."

The extras were asked to put in some long hours - some days started at five in the morning and ended at 10 at night. But Mr Cooper remembers it as an adventure.

He is among the group of riders that appear in the film's opening sequence and, until the film was released in 1995, he had joked to his friends that the movie was going to make him a star.

Mr Cooper, who had to wear a wig of long hair during filming, said: "Twelve of us had spent most of a day with the second unit director. We were photographed and from those photographs four of us were selected for filming close ups the next day.

"We turned up on set at 08:30. Mel Gibson was in charge of the filming.

"One of the three men with me was put on a horse and filmed until he was told to come off and I was told to get on a horse. I spent the rest of the day with Mel Gibson. I was very excited about this."

From when the production ended until the release of Braveheart, Mr Cooper said he waited for his call from Hollywood.

"When I saw the film there were no close-ups of me. It turned out the footage had ended up on the cutting room floor," he said.

The businessman said Braveheart and Rob Roy had a positive effect on Glencoe and the wider area. The film crews stayed in local hotels and money was spent on recruiting extras.

Mr Cooper said: "The productions spent £1m each in the local area, and that was before any spin-off benefits such as tourists coming to visit the locations of the films."

Before Braveheart and Rob Roy, movies one and three of the Highlander franchise were shot in Glencoe.

In more recent years, scenes for Harry Potter, forthcoming sci-fi Under the Skin starring Scarlett Johansson and Bond film Skyfall were shot in the glen and wider area.

"Skyfall is the big one just now," said Mr Cooper.

"People want to go to where Daniel Craig was and recreate some of those scenes."