“A Love Letter to Scotland:” The Creation & Conception of Heritage, in Adoring Outlander: Essays on Fandom, Genre, and the Female Audience. Edited by Valerie Estelle Frankel. Jefferson: McFarland and Co. February 2016.
Walking around Culross in Fife is a unique experience on your average summer day. The small village is the most intact Early Modern royal burgh in Scotland, maintaining a large portion of its original 17th and 18th century buildings, with older sites such as the abbey and West Kirk also extant. However, in June 2014, the burgh provided an even more unique look at its history as the production team of Outlander worked to dress it for the screen, painting the buildings in the village square grey, and enhancing the square’s liveliness with various props.
Other historic sites –Doune, Blackness, Linlithgow, Aberdour and Midhope Castles, as well as Hopetoun House and Dunmore Park House – were also utilised over the course of filming the first series. Some sites (like Doune and Midhope Castles) were extensively revitalised in terms of prop additions in order to create the desired atmosphere, while others (Blackness Castle and Dunmore Park House) saw only minimal tweaks and additions. The properties peopled with costumed extras, the sites come to life in ways not often seen by visitors, an idea to be considered in the course of the paper.
Bearing in mind Mary-Catherine Garden’s argument that ‘it is much more useful and rewarding to consider how a site uses the components of its tangible landscape to create a distinct place of the past,’ this paper will draw on the history of Outlander’s heritage sites in order to explore the ways that history is retold in a fictional story, creating a distinct impression of historical past and fantasised past. Visual analysis using photographs – historic, contemporary, and those showing the added set pieces– of the locations under consideration will be employed to demonstrate that while fictionalised, the cinematic imagery created demonstrates a type of ‘visual textbook’ of heritage. Interviews (both currently published and undertaken by the author) with Costume Designer Terry Dresbach, Set Designer John Gary Steele, and the production team will provide another layer of analysis into the show’s version of history.
Finally, the presentation of heritage in the show will be placed alongside the by-product of increased tourism, as witnessed by many of the locations used. Drawing on Film and Television Studies and theories of heritage and tourism, this portion of the paper will evaluate the current approaches taken by certain locations, the production, and Scotland’s main tourism board, VisitScotland.
While Outlander is an undeniable ‘love letter to Scotland,’ as Showrunner Ron Moore has called it, the show’s portrayal of the Scottish landscape combined with its insight into Scottish heritage sites underlines the way that Outlander approaches heritage as a romanticised interpretation.