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Local Hero (1983)

Courtesy of Goldcrest Films International Ltd

Main image of Local Hero (1983)
DirectorBill Forsyth
Production CompanyEnigma Film And Television
 Goldcrest Films
ProducerDavid Puttnam
ScreenplayBill Forsyth
Director of PhotographyChris Menges

Cast: Burt Lancaster (Felix Happer); Peter Riegert (MacIntyre); Denis Lawson (Gordon Urquhart); Peter Capaldi (Danny Oldsen); Fulton Mackay (Ben Knox)

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A Texas oilman goes to a Scottish fishing village with plans to build a refinery there, but becomes enraptured by the locals' low-key way of life and the area's natural beauty.

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In the early 1980s, British cinemas still regularly showed double bills, and an intriguing one that did the rounds in 1982 involved Chariots of Fire (d. Hugh Hudson, 1981) and Gregory's Girl (d. Bill Forsyth, 1980), two films that on the face of it seemed to have nothing in common - apart from the way that their huge success led to them becoming high-profile symbols of different aspects of the new British cinema.

So it came as little surprise that David Puttnam (Chariots' producer) and Bill Forsyth would eventually join forces, and the result was a critical and commercial triumph. Local Hero (1983) was made on a much bigger budget than Forsyth's previous films - even stretching to a bona fide Hollywood star in Burt Lancaster - but it's clearly the work of the same man.

Indeed, one of the film's most satisfying conceits is the way that Lancaster's character (the Texan oilman Happer) turns out to be the biggest dreamer of them all. Despite his success, he's a kindred spirit to Andy in Gregory's Girl, and certainly as detached from the real world, even to the extent of installing a planetarium in his office and brushing aside business-related matters in favour of astronomical ones when making long-distance calls to his man in Scotland, 'Mac' Macintyre (Peter Riegert).

Mac takes centre stage throughout much of the film, partly as an essential plot motor (he's the man responsible for linking up the small village of Furness Bay with the Knox Corporation and potentially turning its inhabitants into millionaires) but also because it's his journey from hard-bitten executive to hopeless romantic that marks him out as a true Forsyth hero.

Equally typically, he doesn't take any of the expected paths, showing little interest in material or romantic success but a great deal of attachment to natural phenomena from the aurora borealis to the rabbit Trudy - whose summary execution by casserole harshly demonstrates that he's rather more sentimental than his new Scottish friends.

In retrospect, Local Hero was the high point of Bill Forsyth's career. None of his subsequent films would achieve the same level of critical and popular acclaim, partly thanks to production difficulties, but also due to an increasingly darker, more pessimistic tone (as seen in such films as the ironically-titled Comfort and Joy (1984) and his US debut Housekeeping (1987)) that belied his (not entirely deserved) image as a specialist in light comedy.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Meeting Urquhart (5:24)
2. Webbed feet (3:57)
3. Aurora Borealis (2:27)
Production stills
Capaldi, Peter (1958-)
Forsyth, Bill (1946-)
Menges, Chris (1940-)
Puttnam, Lord David (1941-)