There's something vaguely shameful but comforting about a cliché sports film. It's like putting on the cozy track pants you keep around for TV night: You're not sure you'd want someone else to witness your enjoyment, but man, it feels welcome and right. Based on the true story of Graeme Obree – a Scottish amateur cyclist who broke several world records on a bike of his own design – The Flying Scotsman is actually two comfort-filled cozily cliché films in one: The inspirational sports tale and the inspirational triumph-over-mental-illness movie. And this makes it easy to make fun of The Flying Scotsman – I've been calling it "Good Will Biking," "A Beautiful Bike," even "Chariots of Bike" – but, again, you don't go to movies like this expecting them to be revelatory re-inventions; you go to see them to watch all the bases rounded, how the cast and crew enact all the expected moments.
The Flying Scotsman starts with a disheveled man riding a bike into mist-shrouded woods, then walking it through Scotland's meadows and fens and trees. It's, as we soon realize, a one-way trip; the rider hangs a noose from a tree and prepares to hang himself. And then we flash back – into the life of Graeme Obree (played by Johnny Lee Miller), and to the things that have led him to the woods, in the rain, to die. We see Graeme in happier days – or, at least, not-suicidal days. Obree's an amateur cyclist – and a good one. But he can't keep his bike shop open, and he's working as a courier to feed his family. One day, he meets a fellow courier, Malky (Billy Boyd) who seems to know all the angles; when Graeme introduces himself, Malky's matter-of-fact: "I know who you are; I follow cycling." It's a nice trick to establish Graeme for us, the audience – setting Graeme up as someone with a few minor records, a certain degree of renown.