A successful but arrogant banker has a spring holiday with his family in rural south west Scotland where his values and his attitude cause mayhem. The last shepherd shows the errors of his city ways with assistance of a mysterious mute benefactor whose actions climax in a tragic but resolute ending touched by romance.
This film is set in rural south west Scotland over one week in Spring. The Protagonist is a recently widowed shepherd, Jim McKenzie, who is the victim of a road accident. This unfortunate status does not prevent him uttering frequent rebukes to Rupert, the antagonist, throughout the story. Rupert Parker – Smyth is on holiday with his wife Suzanna and their two children, Edward and Victoria. They fail to understand the lifestyle of the country and its significance to their urban and social life back home in the Home Counties. Rupert knocks over Jim and his loyal collie Jess, failing to report the accident. The theme of the morality of individuals is established early.
Frequent misunderstandings are at the heart if the story. As the antagonist learns the ways of the countryside and its economy, the rites of passage for the city family are underway. But there is a natural desire for justice when Rupert falls foul of the law. His hit and run motoring incident brings him into the local court, where a magistrate settles the matter creatively making Rupert the shepherd’s helper for the duration of his spring holiday.
In this unique film, a main actor is Tam, who acts mute throughout. We learn of his heroic past later on in the script and why he wears a mask but his silence is overcome by dramatic and quick thinking actions of supreme fitness, again, the antagonist fails to understand his actions and his motivation as they are not verbal. Tam not only has foresight but brings a panacea to each successive problem. In saving Jim Mckenzie’s life at the start of the film, Tam ensures the respect and trust of the last shepherd. For Jim, It is a debt he has to re-pay.
The community rally round Jim McKenzie, none more so than a young female veterinary surgeon, Jo. She provides practical support for Jim’s farming problems and his injured sheepdog Tess but there is an observable romantic relation flourishing by investigative means initially. Jim is slow to appreciate her advances but true love surfaces before the final scene. By the conclusion, we have a devoted loving couple.
The mysterious Tam’s past comes to light when two SAS officers turn up presuming he had died. They explain Tam’s activities water divining while serving in Afghanistan as an Oxfam Aid worker, assisting the Royal Engineers’ Regiment. For his security, he wares the uniform of that Regiment. They find Tam very much alive to their astonishment. (This story within a story could be filmed as action, rather than a lengthy narrative dialogue.)
Edward and Victoria are very much the children of Rupert with their comments supporting their father. However when they seek a mobile phone signal to assuage their text and call desires, they place themselves in extreme danger as the weather closes in. They go missing and Tam takes on the responsibility to find them. Still Rupert finds fault in what he sees as the ineptitude in the efforts of Jim, the SAS men, Jock, Jo and Bob in organising an immediate rescue as snow mounts in driving blizzards. Jim places his trust in Tam but when he discovers Tam’s empty sleeping bag on Edward’s bed, his anxiety for his safety increases.
A dramatic helicopter rescue saves both children and draws the story to its penultimate conclusion but not before Jim sets off in Rupert’s Range Rover on a mercy mission to save Tam. It is a journey no man would wish to repeat as the Range Rover topples over a snowy ravine and lands on its roof. Tipped over by a JCB, Jim continues shakily with an impromptu Police escort to Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary. As he comes round in his hospital bed with Jo and Bob by his bedside, a sudden realisation why he is there motivates Jim to see how Tam is faring in the same hospital. Another spat with Rupert ensues as they confront each other in the ward corridor but a Consultant takes Jim and the party aside to reveal the extent of Tam’s injuries. As his next of kin, the consultant seeks their permission to turn off the life supporting machine which was keeping him alive. Brain dead, the switch is turned off. Tam’s life ends.
At his funeral, Jim slips and lets the coffin dip. Rupert steps forward to retrieve the falling coffin but Jim recovers and declares him not worthy in his eyes to even touch the coffin of one so brave. It is his final venomous spat. The whole village turns out to honour Tam as he is laid to rest.
Rupert calls on Jim prior to his family’s departure home, where Jim points out the selfish borrowing of Tam’s sleeping bag contributed to his friend’s death. But Jim is tired of berating Rupert. Instead he seeks Rupert’s word not to mention the sleeping bag and its fatal consequences to Edward.
The final scene shows Jo to be an integral part of Jim’s new life and into that budding relationship Jo produces a new collie pup. With no hesitation Jim names the dog Tam and together Jim takes the puppy out on to the hills as if to begin his initiation as a sheep dog. The puppy yelps, Jim looks up to the horizon. Poignantly, an image of a masked man appears in the distant mist and waves; the man has an uncanny resemblance to the late Tam and leaves the viewer with a thought of revelation as he then withdraws into the advancing mist. Then it’s time for Jim and wee Tam to return home.
The Last Shepherd is a Personal Drama with a strong sense of The Desire for Justice. Tam, a fascinating silent character, is also the Character Who Can Not be Put Down and has his own story to tell, within the story. The genre of Dramatic Romance drifts though the script and for ‘Townies’ viewing, the Rites of Passage are gained though understanding rural working practices. It is a family film to be enjoyed and a timely comeuppance foa wealthy banker. The film brings knowledge of rural ways, excitement throughout and romance set in spectacular rural scenery in Dumfries & Galloway.
Miller H Caldwell
Film Script Writer and author
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