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The British Hero by Michael Brooke
Introduction Stiff Upper Lips Working-Class Heroes Heroic Outsiders Heroic Failures The Antihero
Historical Heroes Literary Heroes Cultural Heroes Local Heroes    
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Local Heroes
Still from The Commitments (1991)

The three female members of
The Commitments (1991)

Working-class heroes like Arthur Seaton in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) defined themselves as much by their birthplace as by their social class. Much of the comic tension of George Formby's films derives from the basic scenario of an apparently gormless Northerner who ends up in a snootier Southern environment where he ends up triumphant thanks to a combination of luck and guile.

British stars have often exploited their real-life origins, and not necessarily for comic effect. Richard Burton and Sean Connery remain defiantly Welsh and Scottish regardless of their characters' stated origins, while A Canterbury Tale (1944) is a love-letter to Michael Powell's native Kent, though his notion of 'heroism' is typically ambiguous – in Powell's eyes, his hero could just as easily be the 'glue-man', whose decidedly unheroic behaviour nonetheless derives from a passionate desire to protect and promote his regional heritage.

Scotland has produced a great many homegrown heroes, ranging from the diverse bands of islanders and villagers in The Edge of the World (1937), Whisky Galore! (1949) and Local Hero (1983), the lovably deluded Gregory in Gregory's Girl (1981), the cynical Renton of Trainspotting (1996) or young Jamie from Bill Douglas' autobiographical trilogy.

Similarly, the Welsh run rings round the hapless Hugh Grant in The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill and Came Down A Mountain (1995), while the feisty, Irishwoman Bridie Quilty (ironically played by English rose Deborah Kerr) in I See A Dark Stranger flies the flag for anti-British nationalism. The much later The Commitments (1990) explicitly celebrates its characters' working-class Dublin origins, and 24 Hour Party People (2002) shows that Tony Wilson's ambitions are driven as much by a desire to put Manchester on the map as by anything else.

Ken Loach's films have always been very sensitive to their regional origins, whether London (Poor Cow, 1967), Barnsley (Kes, 1969), Manchester (Raining Stones, 1993) or Glasgow (My Name Is Joe, 1998). All these films, and many others, depict people trying to escape their circumstances, whether through discovering a hobby (kestrel-rearing in Kes) or taking on a series of disastrous jobs in order to buy their daughter a communion dress (Raining Stones). They usually end unhappily, but in Loach's world, even a momentary escape from the drudgery or worse of everyday existence is seen as heroic.