This is a real oddity. Bill Forsyth is my favourite Scottish film-maker, a man who can do little wrong, and that little is Gregory’s 2 Girls. It’s not terrible, no matter what you may have heard, but even I can’t claim that it’s very good. It’s all over the place, as if Forsyth started to make a sex-comedy then was moved by reading Noamh Chomsky to turn the film into a political thriller, seeking to educate the audience to the threat of the political inaction. Carry on Cumbernauld or Confessions of an English Teacher to All The President’s Men without warning. It’s about putting away childish things and finally growing up, and this applies to Forsyth as much as it does Gregory, but unfortunately, somewhere in this process, subtlety and charm have been mislaid.
John Gordon Sinclair is as likable as always, which is just as well as his obsession with student Frances could have been distinctly disturbing. Actually there are times a line is crossed and there are a couple of seriously uncomfortable moments, particularly the opening dream sequence. However, think back to the original film and the scene where the teachers are lusting after a girl who writes erotic poetry to John Bett’s English teacher Alistair. The inference is the same. The difference is that there is a forbidden desire that is only hinted at in the first film. By having Gregory have a fairly graphic wet dream about Frances in the first five minutes, possibly to make the audience realise this is a more ‘adult’ film, Forsyth immediately risks the good will of the significant part of the audience who have only bought a ticket or DvD on the strength of their love for Gregory’s Girl.
The biggest problem is that the tone is all wrong. We expect subtlety and innocence from a Bill Forsyth film, and it appears that it is not just Gregory who has lost his innocence, but Forsyth also. I can understand not wanting to make the same film again, but what he has forgotten is the thing that we loved him for in the first place; entertainment through the characters. There are flourishes of the old Forsyth to remind us of his brilliance. The police interrogation scene, Bel’s drunken proclamations of lust, and Gregory’s attempts to convince his class that politics are important, but there are too many that are ill judged. Bel and Greg’s sex scene, the introduction of the ‘liberal’ American who is dating Gregory sister Madeline, and most notably the very strange ending which I won’t give away here.
As with Gregory’s Girl the female cast are in charge. Carly McKinnon’s Frances manages to be a believable mix of teenage innocence and the growing realisation that she has a power over certain men. Gregory’s ‘other’ girl is Bel (one of the many in jokes for Gregory fans), played by Maria Kennedy Doyle, and she is perhaps the best thing in the film. The only mystery is why Greg takes so long to respond to her advances. The oddest piece of casting is Dougray Scott as Gregory’s former schoolmate made good Fraser Rowan. If he had a moustache he would be constantly twirling it as he plays the most hammy villain this side of a 1920’s silent movie.
You can watch the trailer to Gregory’s 2 Girls by going to mymovies.net, but here’s a wee reminder of why we fell in love with the character in the first place:
There must of been unbearable pressure put on Bill Forsyth to follow up Gregory’s Girl. As much as Local Hero is a well loved movie it is the tale of Gregory that captured many film lover’s imaginations, and since Forsyth had not had a successful film in some time he must have felt the pressure himself. In a sense such a sequel was always doomed to failure as expectations of the audience were too high, and the expectations of those involved too great. The film was criticised in a fairly visceral manner, as if critics were personally affronted, and this reaction seems to have put Forsyth off making films for good. But no Scottish film maker had the charm of Bill Forsyth, someone who made films primarily as entertainment, surprisingly rare in Scotland. His decision to ‘retire’ may be a personal choice that he is happy with and must be respected, but it leaves Scottish film with a hole that no one as yet has come close to filling.
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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.