New film reveals the female force behind famous whisky brand

Emily Mortimer plays Janet Harbinson (inset) in Macallan film <i>(Image: Macallan)</i>
Emily Mortimer plays Janet Harbinson (inset) in Macallan film (Image: Macallan)

YOU don’t have to be a whisky connoisseur to recognise the name Macallan and its proud Scottish heritage. However, mention the name Janet Harbinson and you might struggle to make a connection with the famous brand.

Known as Nettie, it's thanks to Mrs Harbinson that Macallan, founded in 1824, went on to produce one of the most valuable bottles of wine or spirit to be sold at auction and keep the Speyside factory going after the death of her husband.
Now Mrs Harbinson’s story is finally being told and will feature in a film staring Emily Mortimer and is released on November 16.

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The Macallan has released a short biopic revealing the life story of former managing director, Mrs Harbinson, who in 1926 crafted the valuable The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926.
The eight-minute film celebrates her quiet heroism and her profound legacy and is is set in Speyside, Scotland, primarily at The Macallan’s beautiful 485-acre Estate.

In 1918, just months before the end of the First World War, Mrs Harbinson’s husband Alexander, who had been running the distillery at the time, died. The daughter of Roderick Kemp, who had bought the distillery in 1892, she was highly committed to the local community and following his death, she assumed control of the distillery as it was the best way to secure The Macallan for its employees and help the community. Through her passion and care for those around her and her dedication to craftsmanship, she kept the business afloat and helped to rebuild the local area.

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She also crafted The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926, which achieved legendary status after it fetched £1.5m at Sotheby’s in 2019. Several years on, it continues to be the world’s most valuable bottle of wine or spirit ever sold at auction. Its very existence is a direct legacy of Mrs Harbinson’s commitment to doing the right thing for her family, the community and The Macallan.

HeraldScotland: Emily Mortimer portrays Janet Harbinson in the short film
HeraldScotland: Emily Mortimer portrays Janet Harbinson in the short film

Emily Mortimer portrays Janet Harbinson in the short film (Image: Macallan)
Jaume Ferras, Global Creative Director for The Macallan and a producer of the film, said: “We uncovered Janet Harbinson’s story when researching the background to The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926 and we knew we had to share it as soon as we learned of her role in its distillation and maturation, as well as the deep influence she had on the future development of the brand.
“At its heart, this is a love story; it celebrates the love that Nettie had for her husband, her love for the local community, her love for nature and her love for the family business. She cared deeply about others and was determined to use her position at The Macallan to enrich the lives of those around her.
“Guided by her conviction and strong belief in doing the next right thing for everyone she cared about, she unconsciously made history and it is only right that we pay tribute to her.”

HeraldScotland: Janet 'Nettie' Harbinson led Macallan post First World War
HeraldScotland: Janet 'Nettie' Harbinson led Macallan post First World War

Janet 'Nettie' Harbinson led Macallan post First World War (Image: Macallan)
Actress Emily Mortimer stars in the role of Nettie, and there was collaboration with acclaimed director Mike Newell, whose credits include Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco, Mona Lisa Smile, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The script was written by award-winning screenwriter Allan Scott, whose Hollywood hits include Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Don’t Look Now, Castaway and the recent Netflix series, The Queen’s Gambit.
Allan Scott is the pen name of Allan Shiach – a former chairman of The Macallan and great nephew of Mrs Harbinson. As chairman Mr Shiach took the decision to bottle The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926 after 60 years of maturation in 1986.
Scottish fashion designer Christopher Kane created a series of 1920s outfits for the film using historic, luxury fabrics from artisan suppliers including hand-crafted lace and bespoke The Macallan tweed, while Scottish rock group Simple Minds delivered the film’s exclusive soundtrack.
The Newsroom and Mary Poppins Returns star Mortimer, who plays Mrs Harbinson, said: “The story is all about people finding their vocation in life. It’s really about holding onto the memory of someone that you really love.
“Nettie is living in the first half of the 20th century. She just enjoys her life then her husband dies. She had to decide what to do with the business and she decides that she’s going to run it."
The Macallan has appeared in the background of many movies and TV shows, even taking centre stage on occasion, and their former chairman Mr Shiach is an award-winning screenwriter.
Mr Ferras added: “Turning Nettie’s story into a film was a huge challenge, but a bit like Janet herself, we felt compelled to follow the courage of our convictions and give her contribution the treatment it truly deserves.
“We can never repay her for her wisdom, her courage, her care and her craftsmanship, but we hope through our film our gratitude as a brand shines through.”

The Spirit of 1926 will be screened in select cinemas and is available to view at from November 16.