A young actress, not long out of school, is to take on the role of a Highland heroine for a new film project. Last Footsteps of Home is a haunting new short film inspired by the true story of Kate McPherson, a courageous young Scots woman who was forced to leave her family home during the turbulent Highland Clearances in 1813 and board an emigrant ship bound for the New World. Molly O’Brien (18) will bring the inspiring role of Kate to life for the forthcoming film.
Dundee born Molly was brought up in Blairgowrie and started acting classes at the age of seven when she moved to Ireland for two years. Back in Blairgowrie, Molly continued her newfound love of acting at her local theatre company before going on to audition for a foundation acting class at Scottish Youth Theatre.
“The classes taught me a great deal about acting and performance,” says Molly who now lives in Glasgow, “especially about the more professional side to it – the importance of dedication, developing an appreciation for meeting deadlines and really committing yourself to a role.”
Molly’s first role in a short film was when she was in a re-imagining of Gregory’s Girl in association with GMAC and the BFI. More recently she played a lead in a Conservatoire student film and a Screen Education Edinburgh short film. She has since acted in several short films as well as working as a background artist on larger television shows including Outlander.
“Moving to Glasgow opened my eyes to a new side of acting I’d little been involved in before – acting for the screen,” explains Molly. “I’ve worked with many different people on a varied range of interesting projects and cannot wait to start work on this film.
“When I first heard about the role of Kate McPherson I was very excited. The Highland Clearances is a subject that interests me greatly, especially in the light of the fact that although they took place hundreds of years ago, similar examples of people having to leave their homes and go elsewhere can be seen all over the world today.
“It is a privilege to be involved in a project that is telling Kate McPherson’s story in this way. She really was an amazing woman – her life inspires me and symbolises the determination of we as Scots in the quest for a better life.”
The film’s writer and director, Robert Aitken says: “Although separated by 200 years, Molly and Kate share a great quality – both are tenacious young women heading out to a new world hoping to make their mark.
“I knew instantly that Molly was perfect for the role. Pathos will be important in telling our story about the Highland Clearances. Regardless of the arguments, the idea of leaving your home forever is truly heart wrenching.
Filming on Last Footsteps of Home starts in Sutherland and Caithness this September in locations, which include Brora, Golspie and the Strath of Kildonan, as well as the Laidhay Croft Museum in Dunbeath – a 200-year-old rushed thatched longhouse. The Laidhay interior is a readymade film set with a substantial collection of 18th and 19th century agricultural and domestic items.
Laidhay Croft Museum, Dunbeath
Elizabeth Cameron of Laidhay Croft Museum says: “Laidhay is delighted to be involved with Last Footsteps of Home. It’s certainly going to give a great boost to the displays in the museum. We feel confident that people will receive the finished film very positively.”
Throughout the filming, cast and crew will be based at The Golspie Inn, which itself played a key role in the story of Highland Clearances and of great, but little known, importance in the context of Scottish history. Resistance to the planned improvements, which included removing of tenants from the old townships in the Staths at Kildonan and Clyne to the coast, resulted in the ‘Golspie Riots’ of 1813. Around 500 people turned up in a collective act of defiance at the proposed clearance.
“We intend to remember the significance of the ‘Golspie Riots’ with a commemorative stone,” says Eddie McRae, owner of Golspie Inn. “The Inn is only too glad to support the making of Last Footsteps of Home. We have ambitious plans to make the Inn a conducive meeting place for people and the amazing heritage we have on our doorstep. We want to offer visitors and locals alike a rewarding cultural experience. The story of the ‘Golspie Riots’ will also be of great interest to descendants at home and abroad and we feel Robert’s film will truly help communicate this pivotal point in the Scottish Diaspora.”
Concludes Robert Aitken: “I’m hugely excited that our story will use actual locations connected with the Highland Clearances. It’s very important that Molly feels an empathy with the area and the harsh circumstances that the local people often found them in. You can only do that by being on the land where the more turbulent events of the Clearances happened.”
For more information on the film and to read more of Kate’s story please visit the film’s blogsite:
Robert Aitken is a media composer and independent producer and director of cultural projects at home and abroad. He was director on ‘Working Life to War Life’, exploring the effects of WW1 on the North East of Scotland during WW1. His soundtrack to the Highland Clearances, Kildonan, features newly inspired composed and arranged pieces. Robert is currently developing a series of short filmic and sonic episodes pertaining to the story of Scottish emigration.
Confirmed locations include:
-Balblair woods, Little ferry, Golspie
- Kildonan Church, Strath of Kildonan, Helmsdale
- Laidhay Croft Museum, Dunbeath
- Cairn Liath, Stathsteven (between Golspie & Brora)
- Back beach, Brora
- Golspie Inn