This week’s movie scene is from Gregory’s Girl, a wee gem from Scotland… much like The Cathode Ray Choob himself. Ahem…
The 1981 film was written and directed by Bill Forsyth, who would go on to make acclaimed movies such as Local Hero, starring Peter Reigert and Burt Lancaster, and Comfort And Joy, with Bill Patterson and Gregory’s Girl star – and Altered Images singer – Clare Grogan.
Gregory’s Girl was Forsyth’s second film and, like his first, That Sinking Feeling, it largely featured a cast of young unknowns plucked from the Glasgow Youth Theatre.
It’s a gentle, coming-of-age, romantic comedy, starring John Gordon Sinclair as Gregory, a gangly, awkward teenager who falls for Dorothy (Dee Hepburn) a girl who wins a place alongside him on their school’s struggling school football (soccer) team.
The film is much-beloved here in Scotland but has also won a fair amount of international acclaim over the years. It won the Best Original Screenplay award at the 1982 BAFTAs, while the British Film Institute rated it 30th on its list of the 100 best British films and US magazine Entertainment Weekly awarded it 29th spot on its list of the top 50 high-school movies.
What marks it out as something special is Forsyth’s witty, literate script, brought to life by some wonderfully raw, naturalistic performances from the young cast. It’s a brilliantly authentic, well-observed and evocative little slice of Scottish life in the early 1980s, especially for those of us who grew up in the housing schemes of suburban Glasgow.
The film was shot in Cumbernauld, a dreary, grey new town on the outskirts of the city where, coincidentally, I spent three years of my young, pre-school life. In fact the school in the film is Abronhill High School, and Abronhill is where we lived.
An interesting aspect of the script is the way it plays about with traditional roles, reversing the stereotypes and confounding our expectations. Thus, aside from the obviously unusual central twist of having a girl playing alongside, and surpassing, the boys in the football team, more generally, the girls are portrayed as being far more sure of themselves and confident than the boys. Likewise, the boys are most often seen taking part in activities and lessons at school more associated with girls, such as home economics, while the girls are seen experimenting in science class.
Another interesting reversal of roles comes in my favourite scene from the film, which you can see below. In it, Gregory turns to his younger sister, Madeline (Allison Forster) for advice about how to deal with and act on his feelings for Dorothy.
He has nobody else to turn to – his friends just take the mickey, while adults are unfathomable and embarrass him. He’s stuck in that adolescent twilight zone between child and adult, neither one nor the other and so, young though she is, his sister is his only hope of any useful insight or advice.
And true to form, Forsyth surprises us by making her the most insightful character in the film. Not only does the touching scene between brother and sister neatly sum up everything the film is trying to tell us about growing up, first love and coming of age but Maddie’s speech is at once wonderfully innocent and yet deeply profound.
Talking about her favourite drink, yet talking about so much more than that, she points out that the best bit is just before you taste it, when your mouth goes all tingly. But, she adds, that can’t last forever…