Comfort and Joy Bill Paterson, Eleanor David, Clare Grogan, Alex Norton Director: Bill Forsyth In 1985, when Scottish director Bill Forsyth was asked which of his films was his favourite, he replied without hesitation Comfort and Joy. Most people would find that surprising. Comfort and Joy was his fifth, and at that time most recent, film, but the critical response to it had been lukewarm and his biggest box office successes had been, and remain, 1981's Gregory's Girl and 1983's Local Hero. Forsyth, who was known for whimsical low-budget movies with a strong Scottish identity, was about to follow producer David Puttnam to Hollywood, but his talents were largely wasted there, and since returning to Britain he has found it difficult to recapture the popular appeal he enjoyed with his early films. All those have stood the test of time well, but a back-to-back viewing of Local Hero and Comfort and Joy suggest that Forsyth was right in his estimation of his own work. The former retains its charm, but the latter is the more substantial work. Taking its title from the refrain of the carol God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, this atmospheric dark comedy is set in Glasgow around Christmas time, and revolves around the inept attempts of disc jockey Alan 'Dicky' Bird to bring about peace on earth as a mediator in a violent turf war between two rival ice-cream van operators. The film is loosely based on a real gang war that took place in Glasgow, and led to the murder of six people. Ice-cream vans were being used as fronts for criminal activities. Forsyth toned the violence and criminality down considerably for the film, and made the conflict a family dispute in which Bird, played by Bill Paterson (right, with Clare Grogan), gets caught in the middle. Abandoned by his glamorous but kleptomaniac girlfriend, Bird drives the winter streets of the city, dreamily shot by cinematographer Chris Menges, in a BMW convertible that becomes increasingly battered as the plot develops. Bird is undergoing a mid-life crisis and searching for meaning and purpose, both of which he finds in his role as peacemaker in the 'ice-cream wars'. The film is superbly edited by Michael Ellis with music by Mark Knopfler, mostly lifted from the Dire Straits album, Love Over Gold. Knopfler made his debut as a soundtrack composer with Local Hero, and his music is equally apposite and evocative here. The same quirky humour that informs Forsyth's other films is to be found in Comfort and Joy, but the folksiness of Local Hero is replaced by a certain Glasgow grittiness and just the right amount of satirical bite. The film has no Santa Claus - although there is an arch reference from the DJ's boss to a 'sanity clause' in his contract - no reindeer and no Dickensian ghosts, but it perfectly captures the sense of a chilly Scottish city in midwinter with Christmas just around the corner. Its humour is kindly without being bland, and it has a heart-warming happy ending. For a December night in with a DVD, what more could you ask?