We can quibble about what is Scotland’s greatest film or who is our greatest director, but it is difficult to refute that Bill Forsyth’s run of his four ‘Scottish’ films has never been equaled. From debut That Sinking Feeling, through Gregory’s Girl and Comfort and Joy before finishing off in fine style with Local Hero, I can’t think of many directors who can boast this hit rate in their work. Maybe Woody Allen (Sleeper to Manhattan) or Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver to The King of Comedy). These are the directors in whose company Bill Forsyth belongs. Certainly no Scot can claim such a run to match this, indeed few are given the opportunity.

Local Hero marked the end of one period for Forsyth, and the beginning of another, one which I would claim is underrated. It is easy to see that this was always meant to be the film that sold him to Hollywood. It was certainly his first international film. Using a completely unscientific hunch I think that people from Scotland usually say that Gregory’s Girl is their favourite Forsyth film, and those from outside often prefer Local Hero. The film feeds into the Kailyard mythology to a significant extent, while also subverting it. The viewer is lured in with typical Scottish imagery, and leaves with a new take on the country and its culture.

Local Hero sees Forsyth at his peak, and his mixture of charm, self deprecation and subversion of an audiences expectations was applied to those thorny questions of belonging and home. We have Peter Rieger’s ‘MacIntyre’ who is sent by his star-struck boss Burt Lancaster to Scotland as he will be able to relate to ‘his people’, even though his people are actually from Hungary and changed their name so that they could better fit in in their new home of the USA. The locals of the village of Ferness are whip smart, and see profit to be made from the US money men, particularly Denis Lawson’s ‘Gordon Urquhart’. This character could have been an unlikable smart arse but with this actor that was never going to happen. Perhaps Scotland’s most underrated screen actor Lawson plays Urquhart with a mix of self satisfaction, confidence, and easy going charm. It is the key piece of casting in the film. Here’s the trailer:

Of course this is also the breakout film for one Peter Capaldi. His role as MacIntyre’s Scottish sidekick ‘Oldsen’ is so far removed from his most famous recent role as Malcolm Tucker to make you think these are different actors, but actually it is not too far a leap to imagine that this young suit who is on the bottom rung of the corporate ladder could become the hard nosed, foul mouthed, spin doctor that we encounter in The Thick of It and In The Loop. Not a particularly nice leap to make, but not an impossible one. Capaldi represents the innocence of the film, along with Jenny Seagrove’s Selkie like ‘Marina’. Rather than his wide eyed optimism being perverted by the company man, it is MacIntyre who becomes more like Oldsen. He begins to see beauty and the promise of contentment in this rural life. Here are some of the most uplifting moments from the film:

Bill Forsyth hasn’t made a film since 1999’s Gregory’s Two Girls, which is not as bad as its reputation may have you believe, and has only made 9 in total. I miss him. Any one who loves film should miss him. But if he never makes another movie he has still left us with more positive, individual and alternative images of modern Scotland than most of our writers, poets and artists can boast. He changed the way we see ourselves and how others see us, in both cases for the better. Not just a Local Hero, but a national one.

Alistair

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Further thoughts can be found at scotswhayhae

Alistair’s latest thoughts on Scottish books appear on the first Monday of every month.

Comments

  1. Been meaning to re-watch this one for a while, although I always thought that Comfort & Joy was the better film. Surely Peter Capaldi’s breakout role was in the Lair of the White Worm 😉 Hugh Grant’s too!

  2. I would imagine he breaks out in a cold sweat every time he thinks about it, and now you’ve reminded me of ‘The Lair of the White Worm’ I’m going to have to hunt it down. I remember it as Ken Russell’s attempt to go ‘mainstream’, as if such a thing were ever possible. It’ll be worth it just to see Hugh get ‘bitten’ and Amanda Donohoe painted blue.

    I’ll be looking at ‘Comfort and Joy’ nearer Christmas and look forward to hearing what you think. It’s got some of the best performances of any of Forsyth’s films.