Director: Bill Forsyth
Production: Lake Film Productions, in association with the National Film Finance Corporation and Scottish Television; color; running time: 91 minutes; length: 8,182 feet. Released May 1981.
Producers: Davina Belling, Clive Parsons; screenplay: Bill Forsyth; assistant directors: Ian Madden, Terry Dalzell; photography: Michael Coulter; camera operator: Jan Pester; editor: John Gow; sound recordist: Louis Kramer; sound re-recordist: Tony Anscombe; art director: Adrienne Atkinson; music: Colin Tully.
Cast: John Gordon Sinclair (Gregory); Dee Hepburn (Dorothy); Jake D'Arcy (Phil Menzies); Clare Grogan (Susan); Robert Buchanan (Andy); William Greenlees (Steve); Alan Love (Eric); Caroline Guthrie (Carol); Douglas Sannachan (Billy); Carol Macartney (Margo); Allison Foster (Madeleine); Chic Murray (Headmaster); Alex Norton (Alec); John Bett (Alistair); David Anderson (Gregory's Dad); Billy Feeley (Mr. Anderson); Maeve Watt (Miss Ford); Muriel Romanes (Miss Welch); Patrick Lewsley (Mr. Hall); Ronald Girvan (Alan); Pat Harkins (Kelvin); Tony Whitmore (Gordon); Denis Criman (Richard); Graham Thompson (Charlie); Natasha Gerson (Brenda); Christopher Higson (Penguin).
Award: Winner of British Academy Award for Best Screenplay, 1981.
Forsyth, Bill, Gregory's Girl: The Filmscript, edited by Paul Kelley, Cambridge, England, 1991.
Park, James, Learning to Dream: The New British Cinema, London, 1985.
Roddick, Nick, and Martin Auty, British Cinema Now, London, 1985.
Krautz, Alfred, Mille Krautz, and Joris Krautz, editors, Encyclopediaof Film Directors in the United States & Europe: Comedy Films to1991, Munich, 1993.
Continental Film Review, March 1981.
Pym, John, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), June 1981.
Millar, Gavin, in Listener (London), 18 June 1981.
Adair, Gilbert, in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1981.
Interview with Bill Forsyth, in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1981.
Hibbin, N., in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 24, no. 2, 1982.
Variety (New York), 26 May 1982.
Martineau, R., in Séquences (Montreal), July 1983.
Garel, A., in Revue du Cinéma/Image et Son (Paris), July-August 1984.
Lajeunesse, J., in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), Hors serie, vol. 24, 1984.
Nave, B., in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), October 1984.
Ardai, Z., "Gregory baratnoje," in Filmvilag (Budapest), vol. 28, no. 11, 1985.
* * *
Forsyth was a key figure in the revival of British film production in the 1980s, and Gregory's Girl was both a popular and critical success. Forsyth's British work has been compared to the Ealing comedies of the late 1940s and early 1950s, with his typically light comic touch, his sense of character and detail, his quirky protagonists, and his ability to find the surreal in the most everyday people and situations.
His work—and Gregory's Girl is no exception—can also be seen as typical of a particular approach to the construction of a national cinema in a Britain overwhelmed by the popularity of Hollywood films: the production of low-budget films with correspondingly modest production values and low-key drama, aimed at the domestic market and the international art market rather than going for broke on the major American circuits; the casting of good character actors rather than big-name stars; the making of tasteful romances for all the family, which carefully resist indulging in the excesses of Hollywood melodrama; and the emphasis on a decidedly ordinary and specifically local or regional setting and milieu, rather than on the internationally recognizable metropolitan centre.
The film thus works within strongly enunciated British cinematic traditions, with something more than a nod to television drama in terms of the carefully limited scope of the action and the clean-cut, uncomplicated mise-en-scène, and a narrative structure (several simple stories, cleverly interwoven) reminiscent of soap opera. The film also owes something to television advertising, with its focus on suburban consumer-land, inhabited by "ideal families" living in modern gadget-laden houses.
The main narrative situates the film as a melodrama: gawky adolescent Gregory attempts to win the favours of the far more sophisticated Dorothy, while a conspiracy of girls effortlessly organises for him to become hitched to a far more suitable partner in Susan. But a quick look at the final four images of the film reveals a much broader filmic system, which also enables the film to articulate a network of interlocking social worlds. First there is a shot of Gregory and Susan kissing, the conventional happy ending of melodrama. In the second shot, we see Gregory and his sister, in a final incantation of the perfection and permanence of the family, in its nice, ordinary, suburban security. Thirdly, there is a reprise of the delightful running gag of Gregory's friend Andy, and his pal, this time seen hitching to Caracas in search of "girls." Forsyth, like Tati, is a master of the running gag, which produces its comedy through narrative redundance and eccentric characterisation, as with Andy's search for girls, or the lost penguins, or the burly headteacher secretively playing whimsical tunes on the piano.
The final shot of the film repeats another recurrent image: Dorothy, running alone in the dark, a fleeting image of the impossible object of desire, accompanied by the now familiar, dream-like music. Dorothy's character is highly ambiguous, since she is both a sweet, innocent, asexual girl, and a version of the femme fatale (the most dangerous figure in the film's conspiracy of women), wherein female sexuality becomes a threateningly seductive but unattainable enigma, a mystery, both for Gregory and for the implied spectator who is equally kept apart from understanding the ways and means of the female sex. The film, in this sense, reproduces the point of view of the adolescent male.
The film thus has all the ingredients of the adult melodrama, with Gregory lured by the image of the femme fatale, but finally making it with the right partner. But the film is carefully tailored for the family market, offering us a sweet, innocent, adolescent romance-withoutsex (or violence or horror) that has been a feature of several recent British films. This address to the family market is further secured by the very ordinariness of the people and their milieu, and by the sweet lovableness of the youthful actors, aping adult behaviour but with all the innocence and uncomplicatedness of youth. This paradox of maturity and innocence is of course a key source of the film's humour, particularly when stretched to the point of absurd incongruity (as in Gregory's kid sister's relationship with her boyfriend). But despite this veneer of innocence, the film is able to tackle profound social and psychic anxieties concerning heterosexuality and the family.
It seems significant also that a film addressed to the family should locate its drama in the perfect communities of soap powder/breakfast cereal/kitchen technology advertisements, a world that is equally uncomplicated and superficially innocent, and which is itself one of the key sites for the construction and reconstruction of the family.
And while the final shot of the film of the still unattainable Dorothy is a potentially disturbing image for patriarchy, her own apparent innocence and the innocence of the world which surrounds her diminish any such threat and restore faith in the family.