Local Hero (1983)
April 11, 2021 11:46 PM - Subscribe

Mac (Peter Riegert), an ambitious mid-level executive at a Texas oil company is selected — mainly because his name seems Scottish — by his eccentric boss (Burt Lancaster) to travel to Scotland on a two-pronged mission: 1) to negotiate the purchase of Ferness, a remote fishing village with a beautiful beach that happens to be the perfect location for building a refinery to process North Sea petroleum, and 2) to keep his eyes peeled for anything unusual happening in the night sky.

On arrival in Scotland Mac is met by his company’s local representative, Danny (very young first-time-actor Peter Capaldi), and together they set out for the village, acquiring an injured rabbit along the way.

An air of magical realism wafts through Ferness. Cosmic portents manifest above the village and its red telephone box perched on the quayside. But the residents, led by local innkeeper, accountant, and chief-negotiator Gordon (Denis Lawson, known to many as Wedge Antilles from the Star Wars franchise) are all business, as they sense a big payday is in store.

The film also features Jenny Seagrove as a marine scientist, Fulton Mackay as an old beachcomber who holds a crucial card in the negotiations, and several villagers with visions of Maseratis dancing in their heads. And there’s Victor, a genial Russian fisherman who drops by to check on his investments, to drink, and to just hang around observing the goings on with great interest.

English producer David Puttnam, collecting BAFTAs and Oscars in 1982 for Chariots of Fire, had set his sights on making, in his words, a “gentle comedy”, sensing an opportunity to counter all the “zany” ones coming from the US. He chose Glaswegian Bill Forsyth, fresh off the success of Gregory’s Girl, to write and direct, basing his decision on Forsyth’s sensitive writing, keen eye for character, and rambling style.

For the story, the two were inspired by a real-life news account of a group of Scots farmers who had driven a hard bargain to extract a hugely profitable deal from Texaco. The screenplay as conceived by Forsyth is intentionally lacking in any such dramatic confrontation, however, and instead revels in small moments, vivid characters, and delightful distractions.

The beauty of the beach is vital to the story, and a suitable filming location on the west coast of Scotland was found after a six-month search. According to Puttnam, “The story very much depends, for its credibility, on the notion that here is a part of the world and a particular beach where the idea of building a refinery is patently unthinkable.”

Local Hero is available to rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, and other services. A high quality version can be found free on YouTube as well (for now).

Roger Ebert’s review

Bill Mann in the Guardian: The film that makes me cry: Local Hero

The Making of Local Hero [1983 episode of the South Bank Show]

Movie Poster of the Week: Bill Forsyth’s “Local Hero” and the Business of Marketing Movies [the meeting that's referenced here can be seen late in the South Bank Show episode linked above]

Original Theatrical Trailer
posted by theory (10 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
This may well be my favorite movie. Just gorgeous from end-to-end, but also very funny. Too many favorite bits to list them out here, because I would just end up typing out most of the screenplay, but I love this, regarding a rabbit hit by a car:

"Ah shit, I hate hitting things. Do you think we should kill it?"
"What do you mean!!??"
"Hit it. With something heavy."
"You've already done that with a two ton automobile!"
posted by Ipsifendus at 4:00 AM on April 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Or, or, or, the little exchange that appears at the very beginning of this compilation. "You can't eat scenery!"
posted by Ipsifendus at 4:04 AM on April 12, 2021

I was introduced to this movie by my father's cassette tape of its excellent soundtrack and for that alone it has a special place in my heart. But it is also a wonderfully observed little piece of magical realism dressed up in 1980s corporate culture, and I love it for that as well.
posted by gauche at 8:41 AM on April 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Also, I'm glad I'm working from home today because I just shouted "Holy shit" at this picture of young Peter Capaldi in this movie. I remember the role but had never connected the actor to his later work.
posted by gauche at 8:45 AM on April 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

I adore this movie.

I guess it was on HBO during the 1980s. Sometime during the front half of that decade I didn't have a job, had access to a decent TV, and this wonderful movie played over and over. I watched it every time. Then I got a job, moved away, and it wasn't so easy to see so I went without for awhile. Glad that's over.

There are plenty of things—art, people, places, music, etc.—that I don't like as much as I once did. This I like more.
posted by kingless at 5:41 PM on April 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

i love this film unreservedly. so much warmth. odd surrealism. and a mermaid. and stella.

it's nice to see reigart again in kimmy schmidt, even though the role was short-lived.
posted by j_curiouser at 4:22 PM on April 13, 2021

I really loved this film as a kid but haven't gone back since. Nice to hear that it apparently holds up.

Bill Forsyth is kind of a sad case. He started off so strong, with these absolutely unique, wonderful little movies that seemed to be adored by just about everybody who saw them... but he burned out early and as far as I know he hasn't directed anything since that woebegone Gregory's Girl sequel in 1999. I wonder what happened there.

When Peter Capaldi was tearing it up on Doctor Who I looked up his previous credits and was genuinely stunned to learn he was the young pup from this movie. Mind blown! This must've been not long after he was in that punk band with Craig Ferguson. Capaldi has lived a varied life!

I liked Northern Exposure, but it felt so much like an Americanization of this movie that Forsyth should've gotten royalties.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:41 PM on April 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

On the strength of comments in this thread, my wife and I watched this movie.
(on youtube, the volume was too low with our computer-speakers-plugged-in-to-a-projector setup, so we missed a bunch of dialogue. The basic idea of 80's man trying to do a business was clear enough)

I really liked the painter guy, the mermaid (should have been a selkie, no?), and the rich oil mogul who really just likes the stars.
I also like how nobody questioned Mac's sudden sea shell collection, except to offer helpful advice.

That was an office that made me reconsider my stance on becoming super wealthy. I might have to give it a shot if I can have my own planetarium with a button to close the door on people. And then just fly to scotland to hang out on the beach and decide to give up my refinery plans on a whim.

I have two questions:
1) what was up with his... therapist? was that just an 80's "therapists are trying to screw with you" thing? I did not enjoy it.
2) what was that ending? Back to texas, phone rings, end of story?
posted by Acari at 7:25 PM on April 15, 2021

Movie is very notable for being one of the last times you'll hear "telex" as a workable thing.
posted by JanetLand at 10:56 AM on April 16, 2021

I think I owned Mark Knopfler's excellent soundtrack album before I saw the movie, but the one is as good as the other.
posted by Gelatin at 12:38 PM on April 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

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