There are plenty of Scottish actors and writers working in the movie business but strangely few directors. When you search for “Scottish film director”, top of the list is Bill Forsyth, who hasn’t made a film this century and is remembered primarily for two from the early 1980s – Gregory’s Girl (pictured below) and Local Hero (pictured above). Such is the rarity of quality films made in Scotland by Scottish auteurs that these are still celebrated as ones that forged the character of the nation.
“I wasn’t flying the flag for Scotland,” Forsyth says. “I wasn’t trying to say something culturally about Scotland – I don’t know what Scotland means to the guy next to me on the bus. It’s too dumb an idea to want to nail, a culture. It comes from making stuff, and the accumulation of that stuff finally reflects a culture.”
Yet in the wake of the independence referendum, political rhetoric has been obsessed by attempting to define a notion of nationalism. “Scotland’s always been one of these little countries that’s had an identity problem,” Forsyth says. “It’s either had an inferiority complex or the opposite. It’s just a little schizophrenic nation like most little nations seeking an identity. There’s nothing awfully special about it. There’s history but every place on Earth has its history. Beyond that it’s a place where people live and get on with things, like any other.”
It’s just a little schizophrenic nation like most little nations seeking an identity
But isn’t Local Hero a film about a representative of a Texan oil company who comes to Scotland to buy over a village’s beach but is won over by the romanticism of the place and its people?
“It’s not about the landscape and the people in that sense,” Forsyth corrects, “it’s about what a life is. He wants to put a currency value on people’s existences, and that encompasses who they are, what their relationships are, what they think, what they feel, as well as where they live. It’s a very ordinary metaphor – someone who doesn’t have a lot of identity coming to a place and demanding people sell their lives to him. It’s not about Scotland being a lovely wee place to visit or anything like that.”
Nevertheless, Forsyth recognises the parallels of the time presidential wannabe Donald Trump came to build his controversial golf development north of Aberdeen a couple of years ago. Though Trump did not seem to leave a changed, improved man.