|as a twee, wartime farce that's not funny and only archly charming
|Eddie Izzard, Ellie Kendrick, Gregor Fisher, Kevin Guthrie, Naomi Battrick, Sean Biggerstaff, Annie Louise Ross, Ciaron Kelly, Fenella Woolgar, Iain Robertson, James Cosmo, John Sessions, Ken Drury, Kevin Mains, Michael Nardone, Sean Scanlon, Tim Pigott-Smith
|19th May 2017
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Living on a remote Scottish island, you almost wouldn’t know the Second World War was raging, if it weren’t for the bumbling Home Guard, led by Captain Waggett (Eddie Izzard), parading up and down and blocking the one main road for a drill.
But suddenly, the effect of war is felt in all its horror … when the last bottle of whisky on the island is emptied of its final drop and wartime rations means there’s no way to replenish the supply.
As luck would have it, a cargo ship runs aground off the coast – and it turns out that it’s carrying thousands of crates of whisky. The islanders hatch a plot to bring as much of the booze ashore before the ship slips off the rocks and sinks to its final resting place on the sea-bed.
But with the authoritarian Captain Waggett breathing down their necks, the islanders have to try to hide it from him and the local customs officials.
When the local postmaster Macroon (Gregor Fisher) arranges a wedding party for his two daughters – and a stranger arrives on the island in search of some of the ship’s cargo, it becomes harder for island life to continue uninterrupted.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Based on a true story, this was first told as a novel by Sir Compton Mackenzie, who adapted it for the screenplay for the 1949 Ealing comedy of the same name.
So, then – it’s the old question: Why remake a classic? And the answer, as ever, is “Because young audiences don’t watch old black and white films.” Perhaps that’s the case, but what is there about this film that would attract young audiences? Not much.
There are a handful of familiar faces – but mostly faces familiar to older audiences, more likely to have seen the original anyway; Gregor Fisher (best known for the 1980s comedy Rab C Nesbitt) as the postmaster Macroon, John Sessions (probably still best known as a panelist on the 1990s comedy show Whose Line is it Anyway?), the late Tim Pigott-Smith in perhaps his final screen role and most prominent, Eddie Izzard, a stalwart of the comedy scene for twenty years, with the occasional brush with drama, political campaigning and charity marathons. One of the most disappointing aspects of this film is Izzard’s efforts to play the hapless straight-man in the proceedings – despite his huge comedic talent, his Captain Waggett simply comes across as a rather less affable but more cantankerous Captain Mainwaring, from Dad’s Army, and on many levels this film feels like a low-rent version of that TV sitcom, itself only recently remade for the big-screen.
But the Home Guard is only really a side-bar to the main narrative, which revolves around – well – it’s not quite clear. There is Macroon, trying to mind his own business and run his post office, but he’s not really the central character. There are his two daughters – and their fiances, whose quaint wartime relationships form part of the skeleton of the story, but provide none of the flesh. The ensemble, generally, isn’t cohesive or indeed likeable enough to work, which gives rise to one of the biggest failures on the big screen; it’s not really clear who this film is about. Perhaps the main character, as the title might suggest, is the ship-load of crates of whisky, but audiences can hardly root for them.
The film has a handful of cute moments and it certainly feels warm-hearted at times. But the unfolding of the story is disappointingly arch and obvious in a knowingly dated way. With acting somewhat deliberate in its precision, it often feels like it would be more at home on CBBC than on the big screen, had alcohol not played such a prominent role in the plot. Perhaps it needed to feel a little more updated to have justified the remake in the first place.
It tries so hard, you’ll be willing it to work – and it often feels that it nearly might, but too many elements – from the characters to most of the plot points and the dialogue – are so intricately constructed to the requirements of the film that it never really flows.
It’s disappointing that I happened to use the very description of a “twee, chocolate-box, wartime” film only three weeks ago for Their Finest, since it applies even more so to this attempted farce, which is sadly not funny, charming or bold enough.
But you also get a sense that the producers knew from the outset that they were onto a loser when they opted for possibly the biggest crime of all – punctuation in the title. “Laugh at us,” its crying with desperation. Adding an exclamation mark to Whisky Galore makes it no funnier than the same technique did for the execrable Nativity! or indeed Richard Linklater’s recent Everybody Wants Some!! Almost without exception, punctuating film titles is a cry for help. Or an exasperated cry for a wee dram.