This droll filmmaker blends quirky but incisive comedy with bracing moral underpinnings. At age 17, Forsyth was hired as the sole assistant to a documentary filmmaker and gradually learned all aspects of production. After a brief stint in the late 1960s at London's National Film School and at the BBC as an assistant editor, he returned to Glasgow. Forsyth ended his partnership in a sponsored film company as he longed to make fiction features rather than industrial documentaries. A subsequent collaboration with an amateur theater group of mostly young players led to his first feature, "That Sinking Feeling" (1979), shot for $10,000.
Forsyth's characters are often cases of blithely arrested development; indeed, he believes that "adolescence is a kind of permanent terminal state." He has described "That Sinking Feeling," whose destitute teens survive by stealing kitchen fixtures, as "a fairy tale for the workless." "Gregory's Girl" (1981), whose initial idea was, according to Forsyth, inspired by Jack Kerouac's novel, "Maggie Cassidy," observes a young man's infatuation with love. The burglar duo of "Breaking In" (1989), meanwhile, risks all on comradely night-time capers.
"Local Hero" (1983), Forsyth's first US feature, brought a jaded American oil company executive to the Scottish seaside on a financial mission which leads to his spiritual transformation. This pleasingly oddball comedy thematized its hybrid nature with its tale of a charming Scot village driven a bit mad by the prospect of American money. Arguably a major inspiration for the hit CBS comedy-drama series "Northern Exposure", this subtle yet magical fish-out-of-water yarn harkens back to the celebrated Ealing comedies produced in Great Britain in the 40s and 50s. Alexander Mackendrick's "Whiskey Galore/Tight Little Island" (1949) bears a marked family resemblance.
"Comfort and Joy" (1984), a smaller and more melancholy work, returned to Forsyth's beloved Glasgow to tell the story of Dickie Bird, a lovelorn d.j. who is drawn into a civil war between factions of an Italian clan ("the Scotia Nostra") over the rights to Glasgow's ice cream market. Like "Local Hero," "Comfort and Joy" was produced by David Puttnam and exquisitely photographed by Chris Menges. Both are poignant observations of a lonely man's search for peace of mind. Christine Lahti made an indelible impression as the eccentric free spirit of "Housekeeping" (1987), who moves in to care for her orphaned nieces in the Pacific Northwest. This sad and achingly beautiful picture again affirms Forsyth's affinity for the peculiar wisdom of non-conformist souls, while remaining admirably clear-eyed about their other possibly destructive attributes.
Forsyth's first film shot in America, "Breaking In" (1989), scripted by John Sayles and starring Burt Reynolds, carried on the gangly humor and pensive detail of his earlier films while framing them within a caper movie. Five years elapsed before his next project, a British production entitled "Being Human" (1994), starring Robin Williams as a man searhing for his lost family through five historical periods: the Bronze Age, the Roman Empire, medieval Europe, the 16th century and the present.