Donald Trump, the US billionaire, property tycoon, reality TV star and owner of a questionable coiffure, wants to build not one but two golf courses on the north-east coast of Scotland. He also plans a 450-room hotel and 1,500 luxury homes to be built upon the Menie Estate, not far from Aberdeen. With typical immodesty, he claims it will be the best golf resort on Earth. But above the roar of bulldozers comes a cry of protest. The land is of ‘special scientific interest’, with one local expert calling it ‘‘Scotland’s Amazon rain forest’’.
There’s also the small matter of a Mr. Michael Forbes, who says that Trump’s billion dollar showpiece would be on his land, and fears that, pitted against Uncle Sam’s legal eagles, he would be forced out of his home. Understandably, he’d rather stay put(t).
In an uncanny coincidence, it’s not only the plot of Local Hero that seems to have been lifted wholesale, but the location, too – a fact that has certainly not escaped Baxter, who inserts clips of the film to highlight the incredible similarities. But while that story ended in a victory for the underdogs, it’s the fat cats that seem likely to win here. After the Scottish government reverse their own environmental laws, Trump is given the go-ahead. Sniffing a scandal, or at least a scoop, Baxter grabs his camera and heads for the hills.
Molly Forbes is an eighty-six year old Menie Estate resident who totters outside to feed the chickens and smiles when recalling her father’s ploughing contests. She is the proud antithesis of Trump, with his blacked-out SUV convoys tearing up the ground, his uniform yes-men ever surrounding him and his inability to face a press junket without insulting her son or his home. “If we build a $300 million or $400 million hotel, I don’t think you want the windows looking down into a slum,’’ Trump declares, before calling the Estate a ‘pigsty’ and Michael ‘‘someone who Scotland should not be proud of.’’ Michael is unruffled; not even taken aback by the surreal fact that one of the world’s wealthiest men has challenged him to trash-talking, but instead encapsulates the whole ordeal with a displeased but dignified shake of his head. The rich man in town may have bought some friends but he’s certainly not on this Forbes’ list.
After losing this first round, not to mention enduring a spectacularly embarrassing PR backfire, Trump decides to play dirty. Suddenly, Michael finds his water pipes have been disconnected. Baxter takes it upon himself to address this issue, but finds that a conversation with Trump’s site manager leaves him none the wiser. When the filmmaker points out that his friend has been without water for a week now, the manager snaps, somewhat confusingly, ‘‘What’s your angle? You keep mentioning a week. A week. Is that a turn of phrase?’’ before – most baffling of all- outright accusing Baxter of cutting the water himself. If this sounds at all Kafkaesque, then wait until the police arrive…
Yes, what started as one man’s local news story becomes a document of his own arrest. As the policemen cart Baxter into the back of a cop car, the camera captures every shout, struggle and shove. It’ll be a while before the filmmaker’s shouts of ‘‘Stop doing that to me!’’ cease ringing in my head. Soon, other residents wake up to find themselves the victims of Trump’s tricks and tractors, even if such underhand tactics seem to have leapt from the pages of Fantastic Mr Fox. As a peaceful form of retaliation, the village organises a fundraiser art exhibition, with the deep-seated discontentment displayed in superbly subversive paintings (see the above poster) – the best of which is saved for last: a modern reworking of American Gothic tucked into the end credits.
You’ve Been Trumped is an urgent, compelling and fearless film that proves the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction. The scenes of Baxter’s aforementioned arrest are genuinely discomforting, suddenly transforming him from onlooker to yet another casualty. Imagine Julius Nicholson from The Thick Of It,but with Malcolm Tucker’s fury. And while it’s clear that he takes no small glee from becoming the thorn -or thistle- in Trump’s side (as the tycoon painfully points out in a press conference), it’s difficult to imagine this level of restraint from someone such as Michael Moore, say. Perhaps it is fortuitous that, rather than lampoon the boorish billionaire, Baxter finds that his target can slip from one own- goal to another, unassisted. The Menie estate begins, and ends with, the moral high ground; perhaps the only place Trump’s riches and rapaciousness cannot reach.