RogerBW's Blog

Local Hero 14 November 2021

1983 drama/comedy, dir. Bill Forsyth, Peter Riegert, Denis Lawson; IMDb / allmovie. Young privileged man travels from Houston to Charming Rural Land, and learns an Important Lesson about Life.

At least that's the cliché, and a lot of the time the film simply follows the clichéd path. Our man Mac (his family took the name MacIntyre when they arrived from Hungary because they thought it sounded more American) does indeed start to change his feelings on what the good life would be like when he meets the slow-moving inhabitants of Ferness, but they are entirely awake to his plans, and are mostly concerned to maximise the profit they'll get when they sell out. Well, it does get a bit Whisky Galore at times.

But for me at least it's when the film dares to diverge from the easy story that it has a chance of shining – when Mac doesn't have a great romance with a local lass (except in his own mind), when he's unceremoniously dumped back into Houston because his boss has turned up and handled things personally, and when, although he's clearly learned his Important Lesson, he realises that he can't bring the good life home the way he evidently smuggled his shells through the Department of Agriculture checkpoint. Home is still as terrible as it was, only now he's aware of it.

There are strong hints of magical realism here, in the fog that cuts off the village, in the possibly-mermaid marine biologist, in the terribly wise beachcomber-hermit… and I wonder whether that's why cinematographer Chris Menges is so ready to cross the 180° line in his outdoor shots, jumping from side to side of a group of characters and giving an air of discomfort that's largely absent elsewhere.

But this is also a film of its time; I was rather glad, in an early boardroom scene, to see the slow pan around the room and find myself thinking "something is missing", only to realise that the answer was "anyone who isn't a middle-aged or older white man".

Peter Capaldi really was that young once (before he learned the trick of projecting dignity even as he's acting silly). And Bill Forsyth is very good at writing clumsy adolescents, but as someone who remembers being a clumsy adolescent this is something I don't want to be reminded of; unlike Gregory's Girl there isn't even a penguin.

I was interested to see a reference to global cooling (a building design is described as able to survive glaciation, which is obvious nonsense); this was really an early-1970s thing based on very limited data, and wasn't a majority view among climatologists even at the time, but it had a remarkable persistance in popular culture. (I wonder why an oil company would want people to think that way.)

Once more if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

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