Local Hero (film)

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Local Hero
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBill Forsyth
Written byBill Forsyth
Produced by
CinematographyChris Menges
Edited byMichael Bradsell
Music byMark Knopfler
Distributed by20th Century Fox[1]
Release date
  • 17 February 1983 (1983-02-17) (US)
Running time
111 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£3 million[2] or £2.6 million[3]
Box office$5.9 million (US)[4]

Local Hero is a 1983 Scottish comedy-drama film written and directed by Bill Forsyth and starring Peter Riegert, Peter Capaldi, Denis Lawson, Fulton Mackay and Burt Lancaster. Produced by David Puttnam, the film is about an American oil company representative who is sent to the fictional village of Ferness on the west coast of Scotland to purchase the town and surrounding property for his company. For his work on the film, Forsyth won the 1984 BAFTA Award for Best Direction.

A stage musical adaptation received its world premiere in 2019. In the same year a Criterion Collection DVD/Blu-ray was released in September.[5]


"Mac" MacIntyre is a typical 1980s hot-shot executive working for Knox Oil and Gas in Houston, Texas. The company's eccentric head, Felix Happer, sends him (largely because his surname sounds Scottish) to acquire Ferness, a village in the Scottish Highlands, to make way for a refinery. Mac (who is actually of Hungarian extraction) is a little apprehensive about his assignment, complaining to a co-worker that he would rather handle business over the phone and via telex. Happer, an avid amateur astronomer, tells Mac to watch the sky and to notify him immediately if he sees anything unusual.

Upon arriving in Scotland, Mac teams up with local Knox representative Danny Oldsen. During a visit to a Knox research facility in Aberdeen, Dr. Geddes and his assistant Watt inform them about the scope of the company's plans, which entail replacing Ferness with the refinery. They also meet (and admire) marine researcher Marina.

Mac ultimately spends several weeks in Ferness, gradually adapting to the slower-paced life and getting to know the eccentric residents, most notably hotel owner and accountant Gordon Urquhart, and his wife Stella. As time passes, Mac becomes more and more conflicted as he presses to close the deal that will end the quaint little village he has come to love. Unbeknownst to him, however, the villagers are tired of their hard life and are more than eager to sell, though they feign indifference to induce a larger offer. Mac receives encouragement from an unlikely source: Victor, a capitalistic Soviet fishing boat captain who periodically visits his friends in Ferness (and checks on his investment portfolio, managed by Gordon).

Meanwhile, Danny befriends Marina, who is under the impression that the company is planning to build a research centre at Ferness. During a date, he discovers that Marina, who seems more at home in the water than on land, has webbed toes. While watching some grey seals, Danny mentions that sailors used to believe they were mermaids. Marina tells him the sailors were wrong.

As the deal nears completion, Gordon discovers that Ben Knox, an old beachcomber who lives in a driftwood shack on the shore, owns the beach through a grant from the Lord of the Isles to his ancestor. MacIntyre tries everything to entice Ben to sell, even offering enough money to buy any other beach in the world, but the owner is content with what he has. Ben picks up some sand and offers to sell for the same number of pound notes as he has grains of sand in his hand. A suspicious MacIntyre declines, only to be told there could not have been more than ten thousand grains.

Happer finally arrives on site, just in time to unknowingly forestall a potential confrontation between some of the villagers and Ben. When Mac informs him of the snag in the proceedings, he decides to negotiate personally with Ben and, in the process, discovers a kindred spirit. Happer opts to locate the refinery offshore and set up an astronomical observatory instead. He sends MacIntyre home to implement the changes. Danny brings up Marina's dream of an oceanographic research facility and suggests combining the two into the "Happer Institute", an idea that Happer likes. A sombre MacIntyre returns to his apartment in Houston. He pulls from his pocket pebbles and shells and spreads them out on the work surface. The local phone box in Ferness starts ringing.




When producer David Puttnam approached his regular backers Warner Bros. and Goldcrest Films to fund Local Hero, they initially turned him down. When Puttnam won a BAFTA for Chariots of Fire in 1982 this convinced Goldcrest executives to finance the entire film. Warner Bros. agreed to pay $1.5 million for US rights.[3]


Puttnam always wanted Burt Lancaster to play Happer but the casting proved problematic because the Hollywood star wanted his $2 million salary, which was almost a third of the film's entire budget. However, upon learning of Lancaster's potential involvement in the project, Warner Bros. offered Puttnam a US distribution deal and provided the additional funding to secure Lancaster. After negotiations, Puttnam ended up having an additional $200,000 in the film's budget. He later remarked in an interview that "big stars are not a liability, they are an asset!".

Michael Douglas and Henry Winkler were both actively pursued by Bill Forsyth for the role of MacIntyre (which ultimately went to Peter Riegert).


Pennan, Aberdeenshire, which featured as the fictional village of Ferness
Camusdarach, Morar, near Mallaig, Highland, as the beach at Ferness

Local Hero was filmed in several locations around Scotland. Most of the Ferness village scenes were filmed in Pennan on the Aberdeenshire coast, and most of the beach scenes at Morar and Arisaig on the west coast.[6][7]

  • Aberdeenshire, Scotland, UK
  • Arisaig, Highland, Scotland, UK
  • The Ship Inn, Banff, Scotland, UK (interior bar scenes)
  • Ben Nevis Distillery, Fort William, Highland, Scotland, UK
  • Camusdarach Sands, Camusdarach, Morar, Mallaig, Highland, Scotland, UK (Ferness, beach scenes, including external scene of Ferness church, using a mock-up of Our Lady of the Braes church – see below – specially constructed beside the beach)[7]
  • Fort William, Highland, Scotland, UK
  • Highlands, Scotland, UK
  • Hilton, Highland, Scotland, UK (Ferness, village hall ceilidh)
  • Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, 2101 NASA Road, Houston, Texas, US (Knox Oil testing lab)
  • Loch Eil, Highland, Scotland, UK
  • Lochaber, Highland, Scotland, UK
  • Lochailort, Highland, Scotland, UK (Ferness hotel, internal shots)
  • Loch Tarff, Fort Augustus, Highland, Scotland (fog and rabbit scenes)
  • Mallaig, Highland, Scotland, UK
  • Moidart, Highland, Scotland, UK (road scenes for drive to Ferness – A861 descent to Loch Moidart and descent to Inversanda Bay)
  • JPMorgan Chase Tower, formerly Texas Commerce Tower, 600 Travis St., Houston, Texas, US (Knox Oil headquarters)
  • Our Lady of the Braes Roman Catholic Church, Polnish, Highland, Scotland, UK (Ferness, village church, internal scenes)[7]
  • Pennan, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, UK (Ferness, includes red phone box)
  • Pole of Itlaw, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, UK (Ferness, village shop)


The film's soundtrack was written and produced by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. This has led to the popularity of the film with fans of the band. Knopfler has since performed an arrangement of "Going Home (Theme of the Local Hero)" as an encore at many of his concerts.[8] This tune borrows some melodic riffs from traditional songs. In his review of the album for AllMusic, William Ruhlmann wrote:

Dire Straits leader Mark Knopfler's intricate, introspective fingerpicked guitar stylings make a perfect musical complement to the wistful tone of Bill Forsyth's comedy film, Local Hero ... The low-key music picks up traces of Scottish music, but most of it just sounds like Dire Straits doing instrumentals, especially the recurring theme, one of Knopfler's more memorable melodies.[9]

Gerry Rafferty provided the vocals for "The Way It Always Starts" on the soundtrack. The album was certified a BPI silver record.[9]

Critical response[edit]

In his Chicago Sun-Times review, Roger Ebert gave the film his highest four stars, calling it "a small film to treasure". He gave particular praise to writer-director Bill Forsyth for his abilities as a storyteller.

What makes this material really work is the low-key approach of the writer-director, Bill Forsyth, who also made the charming Gregory's Girl and has the patience to let his characters gradually reveal themselves to the camera. He never hurries, and as a result, Local Hero never drags: Nothing is more absorbing than human personalities, developed with love and humor. Some of the payoffs in this film are sly and subtle, and others generate big laughs. Forsyth's big scenes are his little ones, including a heartfelt, whisky-soaked talk between the American and the innkeeper, and a scene where the visitors walk on the beach and talk about the meaning of life. By the time Burt Lancaster reappears at the end of the film, to personally handle the negotiations with old Ben, Local Hero could hardly have anything but a happy ending.[10]

James Berardinelli gave the film three and a half stars out of four, calling it "a fragment of cinematic whimsy—a genial dramatic comedy that defies both our expectations and those of the characters". Berardinelli also focused on Forsyth's abilities as a storyteller, noting that the director "finds the perfect tone for this not-quite-a-fairy-tale set in a quaint seaside Scottish village named Ferness. By injecting a little (but not too much) magical realism into the mix, Forsyth leavens his pro-environmental message to the point that those not looking for it might not be conscious of its presence." Berardinelli concluded that Local Hero represents "the best kind of light fare: a motion picture that offers a helping of substance to go along with an otherwise frothy and undemanding main course".[11]

The New York Times critic Janet Maslin wrote, "Genuine fairy tales are rare; so is film-making that is thoroughly original in an unobtrusive way. Bill Forsyth's quirky disarming Local Hero is both." Maslin concluded:

Local Hero is a funny movie, but it's more apt to induce chuckles than knee-slapping. Like Gregory's Girl, it demonstrates Mr. Forsyth's uncanny ability for making an audience sense that something magical is going on, even if that something isn't easily explained.[12]

In Variety magazine, film critic Todd McCarthy wrote, "After making the grade internationally with the sleeper hit, Gregory's Girl, Scottish writer-director Bill Forsyth has broken the sophomore sesh jinx the only way he could, by making an even better film ... Given a larger canvas, director Forsyth has in no way attempted to overreach himself or the material, keeping things modest and intimate throughout, but displaying a very acute sense of comic insight."[13]

Almar Haflidason called Local Hero "a wry film that slowly slips under the skin to surprising effect" in BBC Home. Haflidason concludes, "Once over, the mood of the film hits home and a longing develops to visit once again the characters of this warm and deceptively slight comedy."[14]

For Movie Gazette, Gary Panton described the film as a "magical, intelligent comedy". Panton praised the cinematography as "little short of amazing" and that Local Hero was "Bill Forsyth's finest work of all, this is a perfect film."[15]

During his 2000 campaign for the presidency, U.S. Vice President Al Gore told Oprah Winfrey in an interview that Local Hero was his favorite film.[16]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a rare 100% positive rating based on 40 reviews, with a weighted average of 8.80/10. The site's consensus reads: "A charmingly low-key character study brought to life by a tremendously talented cast, Local Hero is as humorous as it is heartwarming".[17] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 82 out of 100, based on reviews from 15 critics.[18]

Some Scottish critics were less enthusiastic about the film, pointing out that it repeated and reinforced long-established cinematic representations of Scotland and the Scots and perpetuated a comforting but misleading narrative about Scotland's relationship with international capitalism.[19][20][21] The Glasgow Women and Film Collective questioned what it saw as the film's male-oriented narrative about innocence and power and the marginal roles it accorded to women.[22]

Box office[edit]

Local Hero earned $5,895,761 in total gross sales in the United States.[4] It earned distributors gross of £487,437 in the UK.[23]

Goldcrest Films invested £2,551,000 in the film and received £3,290,000, earning them a profit of £739,000.[24]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1984 British Academy Film Awards[25] Best Actor in a Supporting Role Burt Lancaster Nominated
Best Cinematography Chris Menges Nominated
Best Direction Bill Forsyth Won
Best Editing Michael Bradsell Nominated
Best Film David Puttnam Nominated
Best Film Music Mark Knopfler Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Bill Forsyth Nominated
1983 National Board of Review Awards[26] Top Ten Films Local Hero Won
1984 National Society of Film Critics Awards[27] Best Screenplay Bill Forsyth Won
1984 New York Film Critics Circle Awards[28] Best Screenplay Bill Forsyth Won


The minor planet 7345 Happer is named after Lancaster's character in the film and his quest to have a comet named after him.[29][30]

Stage musical adaptation[edit]

A stage musical based on the film premiered at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh in spring 2019.[31] The musical featured music and lyrics by Mark Knopfler[32] (writer of the film soundtrack) and a book by Bill Forsyth (original film screenwriter and director) and David Greig,[33] and was directed by John Crowley.[34] The musical was due to transfer to The Old Vic in London in summer 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic the run was cancelled. A new production directed by Daniel Evans was scheduled to open in summer 2022 at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Local Hero (1983)". BBFC. Retrieved 10 June 2023.
  2. ^ Walker, Alexander (1985). National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties. Harrap. p. 182. ISBN 9780752857077.
  3. ^ a b Eberts, Jake; Illott, Terry (1990). My indecision is final. Faber and Faber. p. 116. ISBN 9780571148899.
  4. ^ a b "Local Hero". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  5. ^ "Bill Forsyth: Local Hero". Criterion Collection. Retrieved 5 December 2021.
  6. ^ Webster, Jack (17 July 1982). "Local Hero. The making of the movie". The Glasgow Herald. p. 7. Retrieved 9 June 2018.
  7. ^ a b c "Local Hero (1983)". Scotland: the Movie Location Guide. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  8. ^ McPartlin, Patrick (14 March 2014). "12 things you didn't know about Local Hero". The Scotsman. Retrieved 1 February 2017.
  9. ^ a b Ruhlmann, William. "Local Hero (Original Soundtrack)". AllMusic. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Local Hero". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 14 July 2023.
  11. ^ Berardinelli, James. "Local Hero". Reel Views. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  12. ^ Maslin, Janet (17 February 1983). "Local Hero (1983)". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  13. ^ McCarthy, Todd (15 February 1983). "Local Hero". Variety. Retrieved 11 January 2008.
  14. ^ Haflidason, Almar. "Local Hero (1983)". BBC. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  15. ^ Panton, Gary. "Local Hero (1983)". Movie Gazette.
  16. ^ Kurtz, Howard (12 September 2000). "A Moment of Clarity on Candidates' Status". The Washington Post. Retrieved 10 June 2022.
  17. ^ Local Hero at Rotten Tomatoes
  18. ^ "Local Hero". Metacritic. Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  19. ^ Craig, Cairns (1983), Visitors from the Stars: Scottish Film Culture, in Hearn, Sheila G. (ed.), Cencrastus No. 11, New Year 1983, pp. 6 - 11, ISSN 0264-0856
  20. ^ Caughie, John (1983), Support Whose Local Hero?, in Hearn, Sheila G. (ed.), Cencrastus No. 14, Autumn 1983, pp. 44 - 46, ISSN 0264-0856
  21. ^ McArthur, Colin (1983), The Maggie, in Hearn, Sheila G. (ed.), Cencrastus No. 12, Spring 1983, pp. 10 - 14, ISSN 0264-0856
  22. ^ Glasgow Women and Film Collective (1983), Bill and Ben: The Innocent Men?, in Hearn, Sheila G. (ed.), Cencrastus No. 14, Autumn 1983, pp. 42 -44, ISSN 0264-0856
  23. ^ Chapman, J. (2022). The Money Behind the Screen: A History of British Film Finance, 1945-1985. Edinburgh University Press, p. 314
  24. ^ Eberts, Jake; Illott, Terry (1990). My indecision is final. Faber and Faber. p. 657.
  25. ^ "Awards Database". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  26. ^ "Awards for 1983". National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. Archived from the original on 1 April 2012. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  27. ^ "Past Awards". National Society of Film Critics. Archived from the original on 23 March 2015. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  28. ^ "New York Film Critics Circle Awards". New York Film Critics Circle. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  29. ^ "(7345) Happer = 1969 TJ6 = 1992 OF". The International Astronomical Union Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 18 March 2019.
  30. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D.; International Astronomical Union (2003). Dictionary of minor planet names. Berlin; New York: Springer-Verlag. p. 592. ISBN 978-3-540-00238-3. Retrieved 29 July 2012.
  31. ^ "The Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and The Old Vic present the World Premiere of Local Hero". Royal Lyceum Theatre. 3 February 2018. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  32. ^ Ferguson, Brian (3 February 2018). "Bill Forsyth and Mark Knopfler reunite for new Local Hero musical". The Scotsman. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  33. ^ Snow, Georgia (3 February 2018). "Scottish film Local Hero to be adapted as stage musical". The Stage. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  34. ^ Taylor, Marianne (28 April 2018). "Playwright David Greig on Local Hero the musical: 'If Scotland likes it, it'll have integrity'". The Herald. Glasgow. Retrieved 5 December 2021.

External links[edit]