When I was a little girl, one of my favourite things to do was go for a walk with my grandpa, and listen to all the stuff he told me. That’s what watching Prince of Muck feels like. Like going on a walk with Lawrence McEwan, listening to him tell you about his island, about his farm, about his life, about his family.
Isle of Muck is one of the smallest Scottish islands, and it was purchased by a relative of McEwan’s at the end of the 19th century. In 1922, his father became laird of the island, and decided to live there, start a farm there, and help the community to prosper. Lawrence was born to that life, and loved it, and never wanted to be anywhere else. He grew up running barefoot up the hills, camping out among the windswept rocks, and reading poetry while watching the tide go in and out. Now in his 80s, he has passed the farm on to his son, and hopes his grandchildren will also want to continue on this way of life.
This film is a love letter from a man to his home. He has dedicated 8 decades of hard work to it, and as he takes stock of a life well-lived, hopes only to see its preciousness protected and endure. With striking cinematography, as you see the howling gales whip the heather, and the freezing spray break against the harbour walls, and the sky become a changeable masterpiece of colour and mood, you kinda start to fall in love with it too.
Lawrence lives like a man from a bygone time. He bathes in cold water every morning, drives a tractor from the 60s, milks his cows by hand, and ties up the animals in a barn at the back of the house every night. Each day he still goes out with his cows across the fields, leaning on his stick, the dogs running at his feet. A theme throughout the movie is that Lawrence is having a hard time letting go of a life he loves so dearly, whether that means doing less manual work, or letting his son make more of the decisions about the farm, or simply accepting the limitations of his body in old age.
“A good life and a quick death,” says Lawrence, is what every man desires, and what a farmer should give his animals. He calls all his cows by name, and scratches their backs affectionately, but a farm is not a place where the realities of life and death can hide. Mortality feels like a constant presence in every scene, a keen awareness of times passing, of inevitable change, and the fear of what it might bring, but the need to make peace with it as part of nature, and surrender to it, rather than struggle.