Trainspotting Bird; Star Ewan Swaps Hollywood for the Hebrides to Voice Stunning Wildlife Series

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Hendry

The cast come with the territory when you are making a major new natural history programme about the Hebrides.

From the powerful rutting stags locking horns in battle to the white–tailed eagles hunting down barnacle geese, they have no problem playing up for the cameras.

While the footage which features in Hebrides – Islands on the Edge is spectacular in its own right, the makers of the new series went to Hollywood to add a final flourish of star quality.

The four–part show is narrated by Trainspotting and Star Wars actor Ewan McGregor. He was approached by executive producer Nigel Pope, who wanted him over the likes of Sir David Attenborough.

Nigel said: "We wanted a Scottish voice and, if you are going to aim for a high–profile Scottish voice, I don't think we could have done any better.

"What's more, Ewan loved doing it. He did it with real passion. He really had his home country in his head the whole time he was doing it.

"WeconsideredDavidAttenborough but we decided Ewan was better. We really wanted to get him but, with A–list Hollywood celebs, it is quite difficult – you can't just phone them.

"Luckily, cameraman Doug Allan had worked with the actor way back and he had the email of one of his assistants. We managed to get a clip of the show to him.

"It took a few months but, once Ewan saw it, he was in and there was no turning back then.

"It was one of the most pleasant, friendliest parts of the whole process. He was a delight to work with, really committed, no airs or graces, fantastic.

"Your starting point is good with Ewan. He loves the outdoors, he loves Scotland, he is interested in natural history and, because he is an actor, he can bring a level of performance to it that enhances the overall mix."

The star's performance is matched by the animals that inhabit the beautiful but rugged and windswept landscape.

In the opening episode, young swallows, otters and grey seals face up to the biggest storms and highest tides of the year as they move towards independence, while white–tailed eagles target prey amid the tens of thousands of geese and swans arriving for winter.

On the Isle of Rum, stags go head–to–head in a deadly and unrelenting fight for the right to mate with the hinds. It is one of the highlights of the show, albeit a particularly brutal and bruising encounter.

In Rum's Kilmory Glen, one stag – nicknamed The Master– comes up against a wily old foe who waits until his younger rival has tired from battling other stags before making his move. Nigel said: "When it came to the iconic species like the eagles and deer, we wanted to show them in a new way.

"On the deer, for instance, we used a camera called The Phantom which can shoot 1000 frames a second. So you get an exciting, vivid, slowed–down version of the fight and you get every detail.

"You don't get deer fights more spectacular than that, ending with an actual physical wound to one of the deer. It's serious stuff.

"Having said that, it does mean a long time waiting for the fight to happen. The guys were in place for two weeks."

The landmark series paints a dramatic picture of the Hebrides across the seasons but it was three years in the making and took two years of filming.

For Nigel, whose credits include Big Cat Diary and Secret Life Of Elephants, it has been even longer.

He said: "The filming took two years but we've lived it for three or four years. When we first started to talk about it, my wife was pregnant with my daughter, who is now ready to go to school – so it's like making this series has spanned her whole life. …