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Rugged Island, The: A Shetland Lyric (1934)

Courtesy of Scottish Screen Archive

Main image of Rugged Island, The: A Shetland Lyric (1934)
35mm film, 42 mins, black & white
Director & photographyJenny Gilbertson
StoryJenny Gilbertson
 Aline Gordon
Scottish Screen Archive collection

Cast: John Gilbertson, Enga Stout

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A dramatised documentary about a young couple on Shetland, torn between the choice of emigration to Australia or remaining to work their croft in Shetland and look after elderly parents.

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Encouraged by John Grierson, who had purchased some of her earlier documentary films for the GPO Film Library, Jenny Brown (later Gilbertson) embarked in 1933 on her most ambitious project to date. Styled by her as a 'story documentary', The Rugged Island: A Shetland Lyric (1934) concerns the decision facing a young crofting couple offered the promise of a new life in Australia - an opportunity welcomed by the girl but seen by the man as conflicting with his sense of duty to stay and look after elderly parents. The thread of this story continues against a backdrop of lyrically descriptive, evocative shots of Shetland crofting life.

Gilbertson was remarkable in that all her films were what she described as a "one-woman job." She did all the scriptwriting, filming, sound, lighting, direction herself. She identified with and was clearly accepted by the people being filmed. Shortly after completing this film the young Jenny Brown married her leading man John Gilbertson.

Gilbertson had a particular talent for capturing the essence or truth of her subject. As film director Douglas Mackinnon remarked: "Jenny seems to have lifted the soul of that time in the islands and left it hanging up on the screen for future generations to see and feel part of."

Kenneth Broom

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Extract (4:20)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Crofter's Life in the Shetlands, A (1932)
Shetland Experience, The (1977)