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Australia 1986
Directed by
Russell Mulcahy
110 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
David Michael Brown
4 stars


Synopsis:  During the days of Ancient Britain, Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) lives in the Scottish Highlands. After a visit from a strange Spanish soldier called Ramirez (Sean Connery), he discovers that he is an immortal and that he is oomed to spend the rest of his life as a young man as all around him grow old and die. The immortals are destined to fight until there is only one remaining who will receive the ultimate prize. The only way they can die is to be decapitated by one of their kind.

There are certain films that, no matter what their inadequacies, build up a cult following. For some, Highlander is a poorly acted, ridiculously plotted farce with an over-used rock soundtrack that defies belief during much of its running time and looks more like an expensive pop video than a fantasy classic. Not surprising, as the film is directed by Aussie Russell Mulcahy, formally Duran Duran’s director of choice. For others, however, Highlander is a quirky, romantic, action-packed time travelling epic that defies expectations at every turn. Talking of action, Mulcahy handles the sword-fighting scenes with aplomb. It’s a nice touch to make the blade the weapon of choice for the Immortals even though they know they will have to battle each other to the bitter end.

Yes, there are some terrible performances: Christopher Lambert is struggling, to say the least, in the lead and Clancy Brown is a marvel of over-acting as the films bad guy, The Kurgan. Sean Connery is frankly alarming as “the Spanish peacock’ Ramirez but somehow, despite the fact that such performances would derail any other movie, they work perfectly in the world that Mulcahy as created. The soundtrack, by Freddie Mercury and Queen (another band for which Mulcahy directed videos, including A Kind Of Magic) may well seem out of place at times but it works, especially in the scenes when McLeod bids farewell to his Scottish lover, played by Beattie Edney, to the strains of Is This The World We Created. It certainly is over-indulgent but it never fails to pull the heart strings.

Visually, Mulcahy brings all he learnt from his pop video days, along with a few mistakes from his 1984 debut feature, Razorback, for good measure, and he has a ball. The film travels from Ancient Scotland, to modern day Los Angeles and the juxtaposition between the centuries is nicely portrayed, as is the world-weary MacLeod we meet centuries after his initial appearance on the Scottish hills. The life of an immortal is not portrayed as a happy one. The idea of outliving all that you love is the core of the film and elevates it beyond most actioners of the 80s.

There have been numerous Highlander sequels, anime adaptations and television shows but this is one instance when the original is most definitely the best, a guilty pleasure indeed. As the Immortals themselves declaim: “There can be only one!”




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