The National on screen

Maybe you’ve caught a glimpse of the filming of The Fast and Furious in Edinburgh, or enjoyed spotting the Edinburgh locations in films like Trainspotting 2, The Avengers and Cloud Atlas. But did you know that the National  and Royal Scottish Academy buildings have also made a number of guest appearances on screen?

Here’s a selection of TV shows and films where the gallery has played a supporting role.

The Battle of the Sexes (1960)

From Charles Crichton, the Ealing comedy director, The Battle of Sexes concerns an American businesswoman who arrives in Edinburgh to shake up a fading tweed company. The Royal Scottish Academy building, dressed with vintage travel posters, is used as the exit from Waverley Station, and there is a view of the National in the background, as the Mound Precinct stands in as a taxi rank.

Restless Natives (1985)

Before Trainspotting, Restless Natives was the cult Scottish social comedy tackling the contemporary struggles of unemployment and modern urban living in Edinburgh. Soundtracked by Scottish band Big Country, the story revolves around two youths from Wester Hailes who become modern day Robin Hoods. During a motorbike chase through Edinburgh, the duo speed down the Mound, with a good view of the National. 

Trainspotting (1996)

We all know the opening chase along Princes Street to the sound of Iggy Pop. But in the extended running scene later in the film, The Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) is seen in the background as Renton and Spud turn onto Hanover Street from Princes Street. The front of the RSA often changes when it is dressed for the latest exhibition, and in 1995, when the film was shot, posters for the RSA can be seen in the background.

Sunshine on Leith (2013)

This heart-warming musical set in Edinburgh uses the songs of the Proclaimers to tell the story of a close-knit Edinburgh family. And the National was the backdrop for the most joyous musical number. Hundreds of people gathered on the Mound precinct and on top of the pyramid, for a mass sing-a-long to 500 Miles.

Rebus (2001 – 2004)

Ian Rankin’s dour Inspector Rebus is most often found propped up at the Oxford Bar, but the TV series made full use of Edinburgh locations to bring the novels to life, including the National in its fourth and final series.

Of course, there are also artworks in the collection that offer further insight to Scottish moments on screen.

The Murder of David Rizzio, Sir William Allan, exhibited 1833

The recent 2018 biopic of Mary Queen of Scots, starring Saoirse Ronan as Mary, and Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth I, featured a particularly grizzly recreation of the murder of David Rizzio, Mary’s Italian secretary. This moment is also captured in an 1833 painting by Sir William Allan, and which is currently on display at the National. The artist took great care in being historically accurate, recreating the look of Mary’s rooms at Holyrood palace, and establishing the exact identity and role of the conspirators.

Sir William Allan The Murder of David Rizzio Exhibited 1833

William Dyce, Rosslyn Chapel, South Aisle, 1830’s

A pivotal scene in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code takes place in Rosslyn Chapel, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, and for the movie adaptation Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou were filmed in the exact location. On display at the National is William Dyce’s painting of the chapel, offering insight into the ancient chapel as it was in the early nineteenth century.

William Dyce Rosslyn Chapel, South Aisle 1830s

There are many more stories to explore at the National. Find out more about our ambitious project to create fantastic new gallery spaces dedicated to the world’s largest collection of Scottish art.

30 September 2019