The rebranding of Nessie

Friday 27 November 2009

Film-makers have given ‘Nessie’ a monster makeover, according to an expert in film at the University of St Andrews.

Dr David Martin-Jones, author of a new book on Scottish film, believes that in the last decade the Loch Ness monster has been rebranded as a `welcoming, family-friendly monster’ that boosts Scottish tourism.

Dr Martin-Jones, who will launch Scotland: Global Cinema this weekend, explained, “There is a forgotten history of Nessie movies in which encounters with Scotland’s world famous kelpie are used to examine issues increasingly important to Scotland today.  These include the relationship between England and Scotland and Scotland’s status as a small nation in a global context.”

In his new book, Dr Martin-Jones traces the origins of the twentieth century’s love affair with the mythical monster from the 1930s, when a new road alongside the loch coincided with the increase in automobile tourism amongst the middle classes.  The event led to a number of reported `sightings’ of Nessie, and subsequently accompanying photographic evidence appearing in the national tabloids.

According to the researcher, the first British movie to cash in the myth of Nessie, The Secret of the Loch (1934), depicted Scotland as `a stereotypical land of monster-fearing locals and yet, curiously, also as a very modern nation conveniently connected to the South of England by such modern technologies as railway, road, radio, telephone, newspaper, and of course, cinema’.

Dr Martin-Jones, a senior lecturer at the University’s Department of Film Studies, explained, “Nessie became a movie celebrity by uniting Britain in its imagination of itself as a Union of two distinct nations, both of which were joined by modernity, even whilst Scotland – by virtue of the existence of its pre-historic monster – remained primitive in comparison to its southern neighbour.

“What is so distinctive about Nessie’s cinematic incarnations since the 1990s is that the kelpie has been rebranded as a welcoming, and on occasion, a family-friendly monster, who negotiates Scotland’s national position globally. Here again the monster’s inextricable link with tourism are apparent,” he explained.

The author cites the 1996 movie Loch Ness as one of the key films (along with Braveheart and Rob Roy) that influenced the findings of the Hydra Report on the beneficial results of cinematic depictions of Scotland on tourism, the so-called ‘Braveheart effect’.

“What is most interesting about this British film masquerading as a Hollywood production is the difference between Loch Ness and the US monster movies of the 1990s, like Jurassic Park and Anaconda,” he said.

“In Loch Ness, Ted Danson’s university scientist is integrated into a seemingly more `authentic’ community in Scotland by his encounter with the monster, providing US audiences with a dream of a return to a lifestyle that existed before today’s stressful world, repeating the oldest of cinematic myths (Scotland as Brigadoon), but also repackaging US visions of the monster and selling them back to the potential US tourist in a more positive light.”

In his study, Dr Martin-Jones also suggests that the most recent Nessie movie The Water Horse (2007), continues to align the myth with a healthy boost to tourism because the writers changed the ending of the original novel to a more positive light.

Monster film is one of ten genres of Scottish film examined by Dr Martin-Jones in his new book.  Others include comedy, Bollywood, horror, costume drama and gangster flicks.

The book Scotland: Global Cinema, by David Martin-Jones will be officially launched on Saturday 28th November at Waterstones, Market Street, St Andrews at 4pm.


Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews
Contact Gayle Cook, Senior Communications Manager on 01334 467227 / 462529, mobile 07900 050 103, or email [email protected]

Ref: Nessie 271109
View the latest University press releases at

Category Research

Related topics

Share this story