Review: Newly restored “Gregory’s Girl”

Out on blu-ray for the first time thanks to a BFI restoration, Bill Forsyth’s Gregory’s Girl has a golden reputation; a key film in Scottish and UK cinematic history, it’s also an indie darling that’s still talked about and quoted today. But in 2023, it’s also a problematic film that’s of it’s time and needs a little unpacking. It’s a tale of a lovelorn Cumbernauld teenager named Gregory (John Gordon Sinclair) who loses his place in the school football team to Dorothy (Dee Hepburn). He fancies her, of course, but life has other plans for Gregory.

Gregory’s Girl was made back in 1980, and bridged the gap between Forsyth’s debut, the enduringly pawky That Sinking Feeling about a Glasgow sink heist, and his best film, the accomplished Local Hero. Gregory’s Girl does a good job of getting inside the head of a young West of Scotland male; perhaps too well at times. We start with a group of boys spying on a nurse’s changing room at a local hospital; using binoculars, they watch a girl undress, and we share the view. There’s nothing wrong with the human body, but enforced voyeurism isn’t such a great look, and scenes like this aren’t subtext, they’re the text.

Similarly, it’s seen as a great gag that when Dorothy scores a goal at football, not only do her own players land congratulatory kisses on her, but the opposition do as well. In the light of the on-going Spanish football scandal, with a male official resigning for doing the same to a female player, it’s a joke doesn’t play so well today. And while the badinage in the school staffroom is well caught, particularly Chic Murray’s brief but iconic turn as a CGAF headmaster, there’s also a suggestion about a potential paedophile teacher that’s also treated like just another what-are-men-like? joke.

1980 was a year awash with crude, sexist comedies, and despite the issues listed above, Gregory’s Girl is more wholesome and honest than any leering Porky’s could aspire to. There’s a cheerful, summry attitude to life, with compassion for Gregory’s predicament, and some faith put in the women who collectively act together to release him from his self-appointed dwam. For all it’s flaws to the modern mind, Gregory’s Girl is a remarkably wholesome film; the bigger picture is that it sees beyond a limited male POV and evokes a wider, humanist picture of life, and that’s why it struck a chord with audiences worldwide.

At over four decades old, Gregory’s Girl is still a classic, well worth reviving and looking better than ever before in HD; you can practically smell the fresh cut crass as Gregory strolls around Cumbernauld in the evening. If Forsyth’s examination of sexism requires a few trigger warnings today, then fine; it’s a film of a specific moment. But Gregory himself is not a thug, a Neanderthal or a sexist, but a young, growing boy afflicted by chronic self-consciousness, and his lessons learned in growing up are ones that many young Scottish males are still struggling to come to terms with.

Gregory’s Girl is out on blu-ray from Sept 11th 2023. Thanks to BFI for access. 

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