It was in 1518 that Connor MacLeod was born in the village of Glenfinnan near the banks of Loch Shiel, growing to be a man well-liked and admired by his clan until the battle with the Fraser clan where he was mortally wounded, yet lived; thrown out by his people, an outcast, he wandered the valleys until he first met Heather MacDonald, a woman who loved and accepted him, then the enigmatic swordsman Juan Sánchez-Villalobos Ramírez.
Egyptian by birth though most recently domiciled in Spain, Ramírez told MacLeod of his birthright, the Quickening and the Gathering, an event that would not come to pass for another three and a half centuries, the immortal MacLeod now living in New York city under the alias Russell Nash, an antiques dealer, a person of interest to the police following a strange murder where the victim was decapitated and also hunted by the Russian warrior known as the Kurgan who MacLeod first fought in 1536.
A story conceived by Gregory Widen inspired by Ridley Scott’s film The Duellists, telling of two men whose arranged combat was interrupted and postponed for eighteen years, and Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, where immortality is as much a curse as a blessing, never aging as friends and family die, his outline was expanded by screenwriters Peter Bellwood and Larry Ferguson and brought to the screen in 1986 as Highlander.
Southland Tales’ Christophe Lambert barely speaking English when he was cast in the role of Connor MacLeod, in his first appearance he is surrounded by violence and conflict yet even in the crowd he is alone, his brooding eyes remembering the battles and losses which shaped who he is, dirty, savage and merciless skirmishes in the Highlands of Scotland, the filming of which was cold and sometimes hazardous, Lambert severely myopic and obviously unable to wear spectacles while in character.
Starring a Frenchman as a Scotsman, Outland’s Sean Connery was of course the natural choice to play the Egyptian Ramírez, dressed in peacock feathers and possessed of unexplained knowledge about the nature and destiny of the immortals who walk unseen among humanity, the counterintuitive casting only adding to the operatic fantasy of Highlander, though The Mortuary Collection’s Clancy Brown outrageously steals the film as the Kurgan, apparently psychologically incapable of maintaining a low profile.
Director Russell Mulcahy having only made one previous feature film, Razorback, his primary experience was in the music videos which shaped an era, among them Video Killed the Radio Star, Vienna, Bette Davis Eyes, Total Eclipse of the Heart and the slew of exotic travelogues which defined the image of Duran Duran, bringing with him a sharp eye, imagination, technical expertise and contacts within the music industry, approaching Michael Kamen to furnish the orchestral score and Queen to provide the rock soundtrack which adds a contrasting energy in the contemporary scenes.
The songs forming the core of Queen’s multi-million selling album A Kind of Magic, the lyrics draw on dialogue from the film and add dynamism and emotional weight to the struggle of Connor MacLeod, the soaring tragedy of Who Wants to Live Forever having grown stronger with the death of Freddie Mercury only five years after the release of the film, with Lambert fondly recalling that the shoot for second of the two videos Mulcahy directed to promote the film and the album, Princes of the Universe following the title track, was like “a private Queen concert – for us!”
Highlander remastered and released on 4K UHD by StudioCanal, the high definition makes some of the limitations apparent, wires and backdrops at times obvious, but that does not distract from the joy and excitement of what is deservedly regarded as a modern classic, supported by a plethora of new and archive features including three commentaries, from Mulcahy, producers Peter Davis and William Panzer and expert Jon Melville, an hour-long documentary covering the production and the legacy the film, a shorter segment on the soundtrack, and interviews with Clancy Brown and set photographer David James.
Highlander is available on 4K UHD now from StudioCanal