Pennan, on the Moray coast of north-east Scotland is a tiny village with a big reputation. It is hard to reach, down a steep, narrow, serpentine road, but many visitors make the effort. There’s one reason why – they all love Local Hero. In Bill Forsyth’s 1983 film, Pennan has a starring role as Ferness, which will become an oil refinery if some American businessmen (led by Burt Lancaster) have anything to do with it. Like Forsyth’s earlier masterpiece Gregory’s Girl, the film has a great cast and an understated sense of wonder that people fall in love with.
When you arrive it’s easy to see why Pennan was chosen. There is only one street which runs along the shore, lined by clothes poles, lobster baskets and the odd hammock. The houses turn their gables against the sea to shelter from the harsh north wind. The harbour is small and functional and the cliff that towers above the houses threatens to engulf the village every few years. There is no shop (unlike Ferness) and the Pennan Inn has been closed for some time, only recently reopening. It’s not exactly bustling. In fact, it is the opposite of the skyscrapers and long-distance speakerphone conversations of the Texan oil industry.
There is no shortage of little villages with picturesque harbours round these parts, but here the all important troika of harbour, phone box and inn (essential to the plot) are within spitting distance of each other. The famous red phone box, from which Peter Riegert phones home to report on the 'acquisition of Scotland' was added as a prop. When it was removed after filming there was an outcry so it was replaced in a slightly different location where it still stands today. Even the perfect driftwood on the beach has a cinematic quality although the beach scenes were shot on the sands at Morar on the west coast.
Its appeal has endured over the years and in 2005 Pennan topped a poll for the best film location in Britain. A plaque on the Pennan Inn opposite the famous phone box commemorates its fame. In 2008 The Culture Show brought Bill Forsyth back to the village to celebrate Local Hero’s 25th anniversary with a showing in the tiny community hall. The film and the village are so inextricably linked that you can almost hear Mark Knopfler’s famous theme ‘Going Home’ as you approach. As the film suggests, it's difficult to leave without taking a piece of it away with you.