To celebrate my 400th review for IMDb, I turn to another of my favourite films. "Gregory's Girl" was one of the first masterpieces of the eighties revival of the British film industry which was to produce the Oscar-winners "Chariots of Fire" and "Gandhi", and films of the calibre of "Local Hero" "Educating Rita", "The Missionary", "A Private Function" and "Hope and Glory".
Like many excellent British films, "Gregory's Girl" has a strong sense of place. Writer/director Forsyth set the film in his native Scotland, but not the tourist Scotland of glens, tartans and single malt whiskies. ("Local Hero", by contrast, is set in an idyllic Highland village). "Gregory's Girl" was the first-ever film to feature Cumbernauld New Town, a modern town between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Cumbernauld's town centre has been variously designated (chiefly by local residents) as the building in Britain most deserving of demolition or (by the international conservationist group DoCoMoMo) as one of the sixty key monuments of post-war architecture. This does not seem the most promising setting for a film, but Forsyth is able to invest the town's bleak modernist housing estates with a surprising amount of melancholy charm.
Gregory is a teenage schoolboy who falls in love with Dorothy, the attractive girl who succeeds him as centre-forward of the school soccer team. Gregory loses his position and is demoted to goalkeeper after the team lose eight games in a row; of his potential replacements, only Dorothy shows any talent, much to the disgust of the sexist games master Phil, who feels that the sport should be for boys only. At first Dorothy responds to Gregory's ardour with polite indifference, but when he asks her for a date, she accepts. Things do not, however, turn out quite as he had planned. Dorothy and two of her friends, Carol and Margo, have conspired to set Gregory up with a fourth girl, Susan, who has always been keen on him.
John Gordon Sinclair (Gregory) and Claire Grogan (Susan) have gone on to become well-known members of the British acting profession; Claire also had a pop career as the lead singer with Altered Images. None of the cast, however, were famous at the time, and few others went on to stardom. Dee Hepburn's beauty and enchanting performance as Dorothy made her seem a promising newcomer, but her acting career was to prove a brief one; her only subsequent role was in the much-derided soap opera "Crossroads". (According to one version, her lack of success was due to an inability to master any accent other than her native Scottish one).
Part of the film's appeal, however, is precisely that it does feature a cast of unknowns, easy to envisage as genuine Scottish teenagers. It made a refreshing change from American high school movies which, then as now, generally used established actors in their late twenties or even thirties; the unkind joke about Stockard Channing's character in "Grease" was that she would leave school when she passed her exams or had her menopause, whichever happened first.
Although the cast may be little-known, however, all play their parts superbly; there is not a single false note. Gregory's friends emerge as characters in their own right. Eric is a photography buff, Steve a talented cook. (There is an element of role reversal in that a girl is the star of the football team and a boy the star of domestic science classes). The slightly older Billy has left school and is working as a window cleaner's mate, giving him a certain status among his former classmates. Andy is the sort of know-all who is always trying to impress by coming out with nuggets of useless (and probably incorrect) information. According to him there are eight women to every man in Caracas, Venezuela; the dubious accuracy of this statistic does not prevent him and a friend from making a vain attempt to hitch-hike there, believing they will have more chance of picking up girls. Other notable contributions come from Jake D'Arcy as the manic Phil, who believes he is a football coach of genius despite the poor performances of his teams, and Allison Forster as Gregory's worldly-wise little sister Madeline.
Madeline, who is only ten years old but who has a depth of insight into human relationships that would put most agony aunts to shame, is not really a realistic character. "Gregory's Girl", however, is not an altogether realistic film, despite its ordinary setting. Like Forsyth's other masterpiece, "Local Hero", it contains elements of magical realism, the juxtaposition of the everyday with the fantastic. The strangest element was the boy wandering round the school dressed as a penguin. No explanation was ever given for his bizarre costume or for his inability to find his way to the right lesson, and yet this detail seemed perfectly at one with the mood of the film. Much of the humorous dialogue also had something of the surreal about it; Phil, asked by the headmaster how Dorothy will cope with having to shower with the boys, replies "Oh, she'll bring her own soap".
I was at university when I saw this film in the cinema in 1981, having left school two years earlier. I could therefore immediately sympathise with its teenage characters particularly the lanky, awkward Gregory, desperate to impress both his friends and the girls. It always struck me that he was less in love with Dorothy herself than he was with the idea of having a girlfriend to boast about; he is quite happy to end up with Susan and even more happy with the idea that having been seen with three girls in one evening has won him the reputation of being a ladies' man. I still think that the best-ever coming-of-age film is "Rebel without a Cause", but that is a tragic drama about situations outside most teenagers' experience. "Gregory's Girl" is the film which best captures what it is like to be an ordinary teenager. 10/10