We set off to Scotland to find the filming locations for Local Hero. Along the way we discovered one of the most magical beaches in the world and a mysterious phone booth.
Local Hero is one of our favorite movies. Released in 1983, the quirky film is the story of a Houston oil executive who heads to Scotland to buy an entire fishing village so they can build a refinery there. The reaction he gets is not quite what he expected. The executive, Mac, is played by Peter Riegert (then riding a modest wave of fame due to Animal House) while the oil company owner, Happer, is the legendary Burt Lancaster.
Directed by Scotsman Bill Forsyth, Local Hero presages the current struggle between the search for energy and the environment. Throw in a mermaid, the mist covered mountains of the Scottish highlands and a moody musical score by Mark Knopfler and the film creates a magical tableau. It went on to win the BAFTA award for Best Director, the British equivalent of the Oscars.
The village of Pennan in the northeast coast of Scotland played the part of the fictional village of Ferness. The village is quaint but it’s obvious it doesn’t overlook a long stretch of sandy beach. As we’ll see later the beach scenes were filmed 100 miles to the west.
The village phone box plays a key role in the film since it’s Mac’s lifeline back to Houston. (Remember, this was before cell phones and Skype.) The phone box in the movie was a prop and later removed. But that doesn’t stop oiks¹ from descending on the wee village to make a phone call from the existing box anyway, oh look, there’s one now!
¹ Oik is British slang for ”nit-wit.”
A plaque is attached to the Pennan Inn to commemorate the filming.
Our Lady of the Braes Church
The church scenes were filmed on the west coast of Scotland at the deconsecrated Our Lady of the Braes Roman Catholic Church. It occupies a prominent site overlooking Route A830, the main road to Mallaig.
The church appeared to be abandoned and was unlocked so we went inside. It looks like somebody may be renovating it.
What’s Harry Potter doing here?
The west coast of Scotland is a popular spot for moviemakers. Just before we got to the church we passed the Glenfinnan Viaduct that carries the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films.
Camusdarach Beach, Morar
The beach scenes were shot at Camusdarach Beach on the west coast of Scotland and are quite magical, with even a possible mermaid popping up. Something that always intrigued us about the beach was that mountains can be seen in the distance; growing up on the East Coast of the United States we’re not used to seeing mountains off the beach.
In the background two houses are visible. Since the church scenes were filmed elsewhere, the house on the left was wrapped in a plastic façade to look like the church during the filming of the beach scenes.
Beachcomber Ben Knox lived in his shack in this rocky area of the beach.
Michael’s about to drop his watch in the tidal pool where Mac accidentally left his beeping watch behind. It’s a pivotal scene as it shows Mac’s transformation to the languid rhythms of village life.
The beach scenes were shot in an area known as ‘The White Sands of Morar.” It’s a magnificent beach with the right combination of superfine sand along with rocks that create tidal pools.
The Ship Inn, Banff
Unfortunately, we did missing getting a photo of one place. One of our favorite lines from the film is when Mac wants to change lives with Gordon, the Scottish innkeeper. Mac says, “I’d make a good Gordon, Gordon.”
The scene was filmed in a bar but we didn’t know which one. The evening we left Pennan we stopped at the Ship Inn in Banff asking for directions. A few days later we found out that the Ship Inn was where the scene was filmed. Oh well, maybe next time.
Here’s a link to an interview with director Bill Forsyth on Local Hero’s 25th anniversary.
And due to popular demand, here’s a video of Little Rocky running on the beach from Chariots of Fire, which is also in Scotland. And there’s another connection. Fresh off his success producing Chariots of Fire, David Puttnam decided to make Local Hero.
What movies have made you want to visit a place?