Dundee Actress Cast for Highland Clearances film
A young Dundee actress is to take on the lead role of a Highland heroine for a new short film about the Highland Clearances. The Last Footsteps from Home is a haunting story inspired by the real life story of Kate McPherson, a courageous young Scots woman who was forced to leave her family home during the turbulent Highland Clearances in 1813 and board an emigrant ship bound for Canada. Molly O’Brien (18) will bring the inspiring role of Kate to life for the forthcoming film.
Born in Blairgowrie O’Brien has had roles in theatre, small films and TV and has worked as a background artist on the Outlander television series. Molly started acting classes at the age of seven when she moved to Ireland for two years. Back in Blairgowrie, Molly continued her newfound love of acting at her local theatre company before going on to audition for a foundation acting class at Scottish Youth Theatre.
“The classes taught me a great deal about acting and performance,” says Molly who now lives in Glasgow, “especially about the more professional side to it – the importance of dedication, developing an appreciation for meeting deadlines and really committing yourself to a role.”
Filming of The Last Footsteps of Home starts in September, using locations like Brora, Golspie and the Strath of Kildonan and Laidhay Croft Museum, which is a 200-year-old thatched longhouse in Dunbeath. The Laidhay interior is a readymade film set with a substantial collection of 18th and 19th century agricultural and domestic items. It will be set in Sutherland and Caithness.
Elizabeth Cameron of Laidhay Croft Museum says: “Laidhay is delighted to be involved with Last Footsteps of Home. It’s certainly going to give a great boost to the displays in the museum. We feel confident that people will receive the finished film very positively.”
O’Brien, who was brought up in Blairgowrie and now lives in Glasgow, said: “When I first heard about the role of Kate McPherson I was very excited.
“The Highland Clearances is a subject that interests me greatly, especially in the light of the fact that although they took place hundreds of years ago, similar examples of people having to leave their homes and go elsewhere can be seen all over the world today.
“It is a privilege to be involved in a project that is telling Kate McPherson’s story in this way.
“She really was an amazing woman – her life inspires me and symbolises the determination of we as Scots in the quest for a better life.”
The film’s writer and director, Robert Aitken says: “Although separated by 200 years, Molly and Kate share a great quality – both are tenacious young women heading out to a new world hoping to make their mark.
“I knew instantly that Molly was perfect for the role. Pathos will be important in telling our story about the Highland Clearances. Regardless of the arguments, the idea of leaving your home forever is truly heart wrenching.
Throughout the filming, cast and crew will be based at The Golspie Inn, which itself played a key role in the story of Highland Clearances and of great, but little known, importance in the context of Scottish history. Resistance to the planned improvements, which included removing of tenants from the old townships in the Staths at Kildonan and Clyne to the coast, resulted in the ‘Golspie Riots’ of 1813. Around 500 people turned up in a collective act of defiance at the proposed clearance.
Starting in the late 18th Century and running into the 19th Century, the Highland Clearances saw townships occupied by generations of families cleared to make way for large-scale sheep farming and the rearing of deer. It was a forced and often brutal removal. The Clearances fundamentally changed the landscape of much of northern Scotland and destroyed gaelic culture.
A Commemorative Stone for The Gillespie Riots
“We intend to remember the significance of the ‘Golspie Riots’ with a commemorative stone,” says Eddie McRae, owner of Golspie Inn. “The Inn is only too glad to support the making of Last Footsteps of Home. We have ambitious plans to make the Inn a conducive meeting place for people and the amazing heritage we have on our doorstep. We want to offer visitors and locals alike a rewarding cultural experience. The story of the ‘Golspie Riots’ will also be of great interest to descendants at home and abroad and we feel Robert’s film will truly help communicate this pivotal point in the Scottish Diaspora.”
Concludes Robert Aitken: “I’m hugely excited that our story will use actual locations connected with the Highland Clearances. It’s very important that Molly feels an empathy with the area and the harsh circumstances that the local people often found them in. You can only do that by being on the land where the more turbulent events of the Clearances happened.”
Kate McPherson was among 80 people who were forced off land in Sutherland and emigrated to Canada where they were to be settled in the Red River colony. Ms McPherson and the others cleared from Sutherland had to walk 100 miles (161kms) to the colony in wintry conditions in handmade snowshoes.
Mr Aitken said: “The film follows Kate McPherson at the precise point when she is leaving her home, her way of life and her country and we will quite literally follow her ‘last footsteps of home’.
“While the Clearances are well documented, what happened to the displaced Highlanders following the evictions and the impact they made on the world is not so well known.”
Interestingly the short will be free of dialogue.