With a Hollywood legend as its lead, a soundtrack by a famous rock star and a powerful message about finding yourself and the strength of community – not to mention a very famous red telephone box which is now a site of pilgrimage – Local Hero can justly claim to be one of the most iconic Scottish films ever made.

As it celebrates its 40th anniversary next month, Bill Forsyth’s 1983 film is to be honoured with a series of events and open-air screenings in the landscapes where it was filmed.

Set in the fictional coastal village of Ferness but shot around Pennan in Aberdeenshire, Local Hero tells the story of a Texas oilman sent to purchase land for a refinery by his eccentric boss, played by Hollywood great Burt Lancaster (pictured below).

A harbourside telephone box plays a starring role alongside a human cast which also features Peter Riegert and Jenny Seagrove alongside a Who’s Who of Scottish acting talent including Denis Lawson, Fulton Mackay, Ricki Fulton and Peter Capaldi. The famous soundtrack is by Glasgow-born Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler.

The Herald:

Beginning on May 25, highlights of the weekend mini festival include a programme of outdoor screenings at Banff Castle, in Pennan Village Hall, and in Portsoy. There will also be a talk on May 26 in the Banff Springs Hotel by Jonathan Melville, author of Local Hero: Making A Scottish Classic. The hotel itself housed some of the cast and crew during production, and it’s hoped that some former cast members will attend the various events being planned.

“It’s a very important film because it was a Scottish writer and director showing you could make a film for a global audience,” said Mr Melville.

It’s a film which still resonates today for other reasons too.

“It’s easy to forget 40 years on just what was happening in the early 1980s with the oil industry in Scotland. It was a big thing with the Americans coming in and doing their thing in Shetland, which is where the inspiration for the film came from.

“Forty years on there’s all this stuff going on again in Shetland with Cambo. So I think Local Hero is as relevant as it was. That’s really interesting for modern viewers who are just discovering the film for the first time in 2023.”

The Herald:

The film’s many beach scenes were filmed on the west coast, in Morar and Arisaig after film maker Bill Forsyth realised nowhere combined the village setting and coastline needed for the story.
“People don’t realise it but there is film magic at work,” explained Mr Melville. “The houses are in the north-east and the beach is in the west. The telephone box in the film was also a prop, while the real phone box was hidden.”

As for that real, and now very famous village phone box, it’s tended today by Bill Pitt, originally from South Carolina but now living near Pennan.

“Once I was busy repainting the phone box when someone came to take a picture of it and asked if they could help me paint it,” he said. “I handed him the brush and he said it made his year. We get Local Hero fans coming from all over the world and hoping to see the Northern Lights.”

The Herald:

The screenings are supported by Aberdeenshire Council and are being run by Cinescapes, which specialises in outdoor screenings in the Scottish landscapes that inspired them.
“Ever since I began this project, I have dreamed of staging a screening of Local Hero,” said Amanda Rogers, founder of Cinetopia, the company behind Cinescapes. “Local Hero is an utterly charming film which has stood the test of time. We are particularly excited to be working with Jonathan Melville to explore stories behind the making of the film and its impact on the Aberdeenshire area and on the film industry in Scotland.”
Aberdeenshire Council Leader and local Troup councillor Mark Findlater added: “This is very exciting news not only for Pennan itself but for the surrounding communities along the north coast. Our communities still have a real affinity for Local Hero 40 years on from its release and, of course, the iconic red telephone box remains a must-see attraction for visitors to the village.

For those who can’t make it to Pennan for an outdoor screening, Local Hero will be re-released into UK cinemas from May 19.