CHRIS: Gregory’s Girl (Forsyth, 1981, UK)

There was wonderfully touching moment on The Culture Show when Mark Kermode presented veteran film-maker Bill Forsyth with one of his so-called ‘Fellowship’ awards in recognition of his contribution to cinema. The ‘Kermode Awards’ are curmudgeonly idiosyncratic as they are designed to bring recognition to films released in the previous year that have failed to get a nomination for an Academy Award. The life-time achievement award follows a similar mould in an attempt to reach the corners of the film Universe that have been generally overlooked. He has been vociferous in his support of Forsyth for a number of years, citing LOCAL HERO (1983) as one of his personal favourites. In acknowledgement for this support, Forsyth ends his acceptance by suggesting that if he does make another film, then he would do it for the critic.

GREGORY’S GIRL uses a cast of non-actors, many of whom appeared in his first feature THAT SINKING FEELING (1980). Gordon John Sinclair stands out as gawky teenager Gregory who is coming to terms with being bounced from the school football team by Dorothy (Dee Hepburn). Now that he has been relegated to a goalie, he begins to develop a great affection for her and tries to get her to reciprocate with the help of his wise, younger sister (“Ten Years old with the body of a woman of 13”). His attempts to get her attention are priceless. Hepburn is a knowing presence who is incredibly believable. Its her portrayal of an emotionally smart teenager that makes the film so painfully accurate. She realizes what’s going on and cunningly sets up Gregory with the kooky Susan (Claire Grogan) with the help of a sisterhood of classmates.

Arguably it is closer to television than cinema and lacks the chutzpa and archetypes familiar from American teen-movies of the time. The characters are gentle in their sexual desires. That’s not to say that it lacks vim, the dialogue is sparkling with clever turns of phrase:

 “In the future, there’ll be no men, no women, just a world full of wankers.”

The characters are more nuanced than ‘jocks’ and ‘nerds’, instead there is the wonderfully inept Andy who uses his sneeze-based trivia as an opening gambit with girls, or Steve who is skilled at Home Economics, and a kid dressed as a penguin who walks in and out of shot for no reason.

With LOCAL HERO, Forsyth gained an international reputation and worked in America with producer David Putnum, notably on the adaptation of Marilynne Robinson’s book HOUSEKEEPING (1987), however he had an unhappy experience making BEING HUMAN due to shooting problems and interference from the studios. The experience put him off making films, unfortunately not for long enough to avoid making a clunky follow up GREGORY’S TWO GIRLS (2000).

At the heart of the enjoyment of the film is a sense of nostalgia for school days: its Truaffaut for the comprehensive system. My fondness for the film is touched by memories of my school. I cannot remember when I first saw the film, it always seemed to be there, as part of the scenery, and providing the same common ground as Star Wars. One New Year’s Eve, we left a neighbour’s party early to watch it, wondering why we were never able to get a girlfriend, while people laughed on the other-side of the wall.

Everytime I count, I still include the elephants, otherwise it is not proper seconds.

 

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