Alexandre Charlot and Franck Magnier's Imogène McCarthery (2010) has received a preliminary release date for the Gallic markets: November 11.
A woman bedecked in a splurge of tartan, and holding a fierce firearm, has suddenly sprouted all over billboards and Metro poster sites in Paris.
Behind this colourful disguise is Catherine Frot, one of France’s favourite actresses, who donned the kilt and other accessories – and dyed her fair hair red – to take on the role of an amateur Scottish Mata Hari in a film shot last year for three weeks around various locations in Edinburgh, the Peebles area, and Falkland Palace in Fife, a National Trust property.
Frot incarnates the title role of Imogene McCarthery, a member of the McLeod clan, who works as a secretary in the Admiralty in London in the spy spoof adapted from the novel by Charles Exbrayat.
Set in the Sixties, Frot’s character who, in the words of the film’s publicists, has “a penchant for rugby, bagpipes and especially whisky”, finds herself entrusted to deliver the plans for a revolutionary new aircraft simply because her disarming appearance is unlikely to arouse suspicions. The official synopsis continues: “As she gets on to the train which will take her back to Scotland, Imogene is unaware of what awaits her: a plot which is beyond her, three merciless Bolshevik agents, but above all, Samuel Tyler, her great childhood sweetheart, who has been shattered by a terrible secret. Danger, honour and love… Imogene to the fore!”
Frot, the daughter of an engineer and a teacher, has won awards for her stage and film work, notably a Cesar (the French equivalent of an Oscar) for her performance in Cedric Klapisch’s Un air de famille. She is the winner of a Moliere (the National Theatre Award of France), and a nominee for seven additional Cesars. She has also appeared in film comedies, among them La Dilettante and Les soeurs fachees.
“I loved my time in Scotland,” she says. “People tell me I have a certain Scottish allure so I felt perfectly at home. The film is a burlesque adventure and I think it is very funny. Certainly, it was fun to make. My character is supposed to deliver a secret dossier to an important contact in Scotland, but she is the kind of person no-one would suspect.
“I guess it has a bit of The 39 Steps about it, mixed in with The Pink Panther, and it is very stylised.”
The film, made for French company UGC on a budget of €17 million, is the directorial debut of Alexandre Charlot and Franck Magnier, who wrote the recent Gallic mega-hit Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Sticks) as well as Asterix at the Olympic Games.
Co-starring alongside Frot is Lambert Wilson, a prolific French leading man who received worldwide exposure as the villainous Merovingian in the final two instalments of the Matrix franchise. He plays a senior intelligence officer.
Frot’s character previously has been camped up on French television by Dominique Lavanant in an Eighties series when the character lost her Scottish identity and became a Bretonne.
Two of Frot’s most recent screen appearances have been in adaptations of Agatha Christie novels for director Pascal Thomas: Mon petit doigt m’a dit and Le crime est notre affaire (taken from respectively By the Pricking of My Thumb and Partners in Crime).
Ros Davis, production liaison manager for Edinburgh Film Focus, the film office for the capital, the Lothians and the Scottish Borders, says. “Imogene is the second big European production we have attracted to our area this year [the other is Whiteout for German TV]. The benefits of our film-friendly reputation and great locations, together with the weak pound, are really working in our favour at the moment.’
The National Trust for Scotland’s communications manager, Sarah Cuthbert-Kerr, says: “Falkland and the surrounding countryside proved a wonderful location and is sure to look great on the big screen. We hope this international exposure will encourage more visitors to explore this lovely part of Scotland. I’m really looking forward to seeing it.”
The film is released in France on May 5, however, the promotional team have not been too sensitive to Imogene’s Scottish sensibilities, offering cinema-goers the chance to win a trip not to Edinburgh but London, despite the fact Imogene frequently declares that she “hates the English”.
Screenings in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow will take place as part of the French Film Festival with Frot and Wilson as guests.