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  • Edinburgh


  • Arts and crafts
  • Celts and celtic culture
  • Emotions, attitudes and behaviour
  • Home life
  • Leisure and recreation
  • Politics


  • Documentary
  • Experimental
  • Women film makers


  • TAIT, Margaret


  • 1960s

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Related biographies

Please read Understanding catalogue records for help interpreting this information and Using footage for more information about accessing this film.

Title: HUGH MACDIARMID: A Portrait

Reference number: 6220

Date: 1964

Director: filmed by Margaret Tait

Production company: Ancona Films

Sound: sound

Colour: bw

Fiction: non-fiction

Running time: 8.27 mins

Description: An offbeat, affectionate portrait of the Scottish poet, Hugh MacDiarmid. There is straightforward material of him in his own home, and in addition to speaking his own poems, the poet gracefully enacts the film-maker's interpretation of them.

For other films about Hugh MacDiarmid see also refs. 0537, 1823 and 2688.

Margaret Tait described her film as follows: "A study of the poet, who was seventy-one at the time. There is straightforward material of him in his own home, and in addition to speaking his own poems, the poet gracefully enacts the film-maker's interpretation of them. The poems heard are 'You Know Not Who I Am ' , 'Somersault', 'Krang' and some lines out of 'The Kind of Poetry I Want'. The music is Francis George Scott's setting of MacDiarmid's 'The Eemis Stane', sung by Duncan Robertson, accompanied on the piano by Olive Ogston."

"...she gives the subject a bold, original treatment. Why does she have the ageing Scottish poet walk teeteringly atop a wall, and throw stones across a burn ? It may be to demonstrate how poised and perilous and daring is the art of this poet, who dealt in homely things as well as in vast cosmic themes." George Mackay Brown The Orcadian 13 Dec. 1979.

"...the bard emerges as a warm and affectionate subject, saying more and seeing more in its nine minutes than a half-hour of television reportage..."
Edinburgh Film Festival, 1970.

Margaret Tait, in the Channel 4 documentary MARGARET TAIT - FILM MAKER, says the lines in the poem 'Somersault' suggested to her 'the poet as a circus performer really enjoying balancing on the high wire' - hence the scene in the film where MacDiarmid balances on the edge of the pavement

I lo'e the stishie
O' earth in space
Breenging by
At a haliket pace
('Somersault' from Pennywheep)

Margaret Tait invited Libraries and Universities across Scotland to subscribe to the making of this title ['£100 or 280 dollars towards the film, and in return will receive a 16mm copy of the film for their own use']. Surprisingly, not one took up the offer and Tait financed the film alone.

See also Additional Information files held at Scottish Screen Archive. The Tait papers are deposited in Orkney Archives. Currently being catalogued. For any enquiries please contact Principal Archivist.

Time Out, No. 522.18. April 1980, p45
Listed in a short season of Tait's films screened at the London Film-Makers' Co-op.

Online tour of this title, interpreted by contemporary Scottish writer Ali Smith can be found on the LUX website at: [last accessed 25/7/2013]

The British Artist's Film and Video Study Collection at based at Central St. Martin's College of Art and Design holds an artist's file on Margaret Tait.

The British Film Institute National Library holds many of the published articles on her and her work. See also National Film Theatre Programme Notes - Art In Cinema - The International Avant-Garde Film.

In 1979 Margaret Tait was the subject of a BBC Scotland 'Spectrum' arts programme.

Credits: m. Francis George Scott
The Eemis Stane was sung by Duncan Robertson
piano Olive Ogston
The poems were read by C. M. Grieve (Hugh MacDiarmid)
sd. rec. Park Film Studios Ltd, Glasgow

[poems spoken by C. M Grieve]

Shotlist: opening credits, intercut with a c/u of Hugh MacDiarmid's face (0.25) various shots paintings and pictures on a wall - some being caricatures and artistic interpretations of MacDiarmid himself (real name Christopher Murray Grieve) MacDiarmid looks at these (0.59) brief shots of MacDiarmid tuning the radio, his wife stoking coal fire, followed by shots of MacDiarmid writing letter at desk, he listens to news and smokes while writing - the camera lingers in c/u upon his face (2.14) pan across mantlepiece and shelves crammed full of books - there are also photographs and bric a brac arranged rather affectionately and haphazardly on shelf (3.15) potted plants and flowers at window (3.29) ints kitchen, MacDiarmid dries cutlery with tea towel (3.37) wife smoking in doorway [she would appear to be talking to pet dog?] (3.50) exts garden where MacDiarmid tries to bend a piece of wire backwards (as referenced in a poem of his spoke in commentary) (4.11) MacDiarmid walks, balancing precariously on paving stones and walls around the streets of Edinburgh's New Town (5.01) he chats to a man in the street (5.17) ints pub on Rose Street (?) where MacDiarmid chats to people (6.46) shots of breaking waves on shore, fishing boat, MacDiarmid looks out to sea (7.17) MacDiarmid walking down steps at harbour wall, water laps near his feet (7.37) he throws stones near a rocky burn (7.52) he returns to his cottage and shuts the front door behind him (8.00) c/u raindrops falling on puddle, wash from boats prow in water (8.08) ecs (8.27)