The term Forsyth-ian was coined with reference to the positive influence of Bill Forsyth on Scottish film; after That Sinking Feeling, Gregory’s Girl, Local Hero and Comfort and Joy, the Scot’s single-handed creation of a personal tone and approach to cinema seemed to herald great things. Forsyth headed to the States, where Housekeeping, Breaking In and Being Human failed to cement his reputation; meanwhile in his homeland, films like Heavenly Pursuits, Restless Natives and Cary Parker’s The Girl in the Picture didn’t quite manage to pick up the baton.
The Forsyth style was quiet, unassuming, gentle, with a pre-occupation for thwarted romance and genial comic business. Local production house Antonine took their name from the Roman wall close to Glasgow, the setting of this bitter-sweet romance. John Gordon Sinclair plays Alan, a local photographer who has big ambitions, but is grounded by his role in the day-to-day business of a high-street photography-development shop. Every day he practices his break-up speech to Mary (Irina Brook), his girlfriend, but when he actually makes the break, he finds he wants her back. The notion of dithering is key to Forsyth’s That Sinking Feeling; a notable gag has Sinclair’s character struggling to decide which route to take through a public park, and The Girl in the Picture doubles-down on such indecisiveness.
This is a slight film, but not without pleasures. David Mackay makes the side-kick role work, Gregor Fisher makes an impression as a fiancée with second thoughts, and Ricki Fulton reprises his much-loved Minister character that was a toast of many Scottish Hogmanay’s. Antonine went on to produce Peter Mullan’s hard-edged and blackly comic Orphans, but The Girl in the Picture probably marks a high-water mark of native Glasgow film-making; the formation of funding bodies seemed to work against the expression of such everyday, pawky sentiments, and Scottish film would soon become the preserve of outside influences.
But if you can find it, The Girl in the Picture is of-a-piece with the best of Scottish comedy-drama; we didn’t know it then, but like the central character here, the good times would be gone before we knew it. The view of Glasgow West End, all sun-drenched bay windows, burnished orange buses and leafy streets, is something of a time-capsule of a more innocent, warmer time.