We watched the 1983 Scottish film Local Hero, a charming send-up of corporate insensitivity that borders on fantasy. The story concerns a fictional American company, Knox Oil and Gas, which has plans to build a refinery on the coast of Scotland. The head of the company, Felix Happer (Burt Lancaster), blithely dispatches Knox hotshot “Mac” MacIntyre (Peter Riegert) to buy an entire seaside village to be leveled for the project.


Mac conducts his negotiations through canny local hotel owner/accountant Gordon Urquhart (Dennis Lawson), and at first business moves along smoothly as the villagers look forward to exchanging their obscure existence for unexpected wealth.  But the company needs the beach as well as the town, and it develops that the beach is the property and the home of an old man coincidentally named Ben Knox (Fulton Mackay), whose family has held it for so long that the deed is displayed in a museum.


Happer is an eccentric who is more interested in astronomy than in oil and gas, and he instructs MacIntyre to file regular reports on what’s going on in the heavens over Scotland. MacIntyre regards himself as an inside man who could have negotiated the purchase over the phone, but Happer isn’t one to be contradicted, so the young man humors his boss by traveling to Ferness, a fictional place, and by reporting celestial phenomena including the aurora borealis, which excites even the blase MacIntyre.

While Mac and Gordon are trying to decide what to do about Ben Knox, Happer abruptly decides to fly from Texas to visit the village himself, attracted as much by what’s in the sky as by what’s on the ground. Thereupon hangs the climax and resolution of the story, so — to quote Cosmo Casterini — “I’ll say no more.”

This is an entertaining film, due in no small way to the charm of the residents of  Ferness. The plot, of course, is improbable, but this is just a good yarn, maybe all the better for being unlikely.

Lancaster’s role in this movie is limited, but I really grew to like him all over again when he reached a certain age and his on-screen persona changed to what  we saw in “Moonlight” Graham in Field of Dreams.

Local Hero has an outstanding score — so much so that it has outsold the movie itself. It was written by Mark Knopfler of “Dire Straits.”