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 have never been equaled. From his 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: