I consider myself lucky to have two of the best movies to come out of Scotland as the backdrop to my adolescence. Local hero and Gregory’s Girl were both released before my appreciation of cinema blossomed, but thanks to a progressive English teacher, both texts and movies were to play an important part in my education.
Bill Forsyth is the genius who brought both of these stories to the big screen and, while I still enjoy many comedic flashbacks to Gregory’s Girl, it’s Local Hero which has become such a cult classic around the world.
The backdrop for Local Hero was an all too common issue facing small villages along the north-east of Scotland. Large oil companies thought it their right to set up a refinery and drill for oil, just because they had the manpower and machinery to do so. While the resulting oil production created jobs and was a handy revenue stream for an under-siege British Government, it tore apart small fishing communities.
Peter Riegert stars as Mac, the reluctant oil negotiator who has been tasked by his boss to secure a location for a new refinery. Mac and his sidekick Danny (Peter Capaldi) arrive in the sleepy village of Furness, where the canny locals know there’s money coming their way, but intend to have a little fun with Mac before they sign the deal.
Littered with iconic one-liners, such as when Danny and Mac hit a rabbit on the road and Danny asks if they should “hit it with something hard”, to which Mac replies, “we already did that, a two-tonne automobile”. Or when Dennis Lawson’s character, Gordon Urquhart is questioned on why he appears to be everywhere, “we tend to double up on jobs around here”, which is one of the iconic scenes of the movie.
Of course, there’s more to Local Hero than quick wit, stunning scenery and characters, whose initial simplicity gives way to reveal a real depth. This moralistic tale centres around the attitude of corporate America to those who live in ‘hicksville’ and, when shown another way life, how quickly they become disillusioned with the corporate way of life and are keen to assimilate into this new way of living.
However, there is one fly in the ointment which could see the community’s grab for wealth hit the skids. Local beach owner and dweller Ben, played by a master of black comedy, Fulton Mackay, refuses to sell his little piece of paradise. This is the precedent to the arrival of Happer, the part which was written by Forsythe with Burt Lancaster in mind. Flying in by helicopter to put this little town in its place, Happer soon realises that paradise is found in many different ways.
And what about the red telephone box from which Mac’s call from Houston went forlornly unanswered? It still stands in Pennan and receives many visitors each year.