'Whisky Galore': Film Review
Eddie Izzard leads the cast in Gillies MacKinnon's remake of a beloved 1949 Ealing Studios comedy.
Remakes of the classic Ealing Studios comedies (several of which starred Alec Guinness) have not tended to fare well. Updating The Ladykillers led to a rare misfire for the Coen Brothers; a Kind Hearts and Coronets redo starring Will Smith and Robin Williams never even made it into production. (On Broadway, though, that source material led to a delightful hit, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder.) Gillies MacKinnon's new Whisky Galore, remaking Alexander Mackendrick's 1949 original, nearly met the latter film's fate: It languished for many years in development, with fans of this deeply Scottish tale complaining that producers wanted to cast English thesps like Ricky Gervais in key roles. Gervais' role eventually went to another English actor, Eddie Izzard, and Galore got made — retelling the WWII-era yarn of a tiny Scottish island that ran out of booze, then found the mother lode. But the laughs never really get flowing in this attractively shot pic, which will struggle to reach moviegoers and leave many underwhelmed. It may stand as a lesson for would-be Ealing nostalgists: Leave The Lavender Hill Mob alone.
Izzard's Captain Wagget is not, strictly speaking, the star of the film. The ensemble's center would probably be the sour-faced old Macroon (Gregor Fisher), postmaster of the fictional Isle of Todday, whose two young daughters Peggy (Naomi Battrick) and Catriona (Ellie Kendrick) keep the local boys stepping lively. Macroon narrates the story, which begins on the day when the local pub pours its last drop of its rationed whisky. Suddenly this little refuge, whose mood seems to have been little dampened by the war, is as gloomy as Eastern Europe. Grown men take to their deathbeds in anticipation of the end. Scots like their drink, is the point.
We're observing some of the island's low-stakes social dramas — notably Catriona's fear that her fiance George (Kevin Guthrie) will never stand up to his weirdly disapproving old mum (enjoyably, Catriona eventually does the standing up herself) — when a freighter crashes on nearby rocks. As the crew is rescued, word spreads that their cargo was, in part, fifty thousand cases of whisky.
All across Todday, plans are hatched to go steal the amber treasure. But it's the Sabbath, and the film overplays that little 24-hour obstacle. More promising would seem to be the officious opposition of Izzard's Wagget, who until now has been useless as a home guard commander, setting up silly road blocks lest Hitler decide to invade England by crossing through Todday. Given a purpose, Wagget does his incompetent best to guard the ship's cargo until backup can arrive. But even in the heat of the final act, these efforts amount to little, comedy-wise, and we're left with the diversion of watching the whole of the island get soused on what turns out to be truly rare hooch.
Production company: Whisky Galore Movie Ltd.
Distributor: Arrow Films
Cast: Gregor Fisher, Eddie Izzard, Naomi Battrick, Sean Biggerstaff, Kevin Guthrie, Iain Robertson, Antony Strachan, Brian Pettifer, Ellie Kendrick, James Cosmo
Director: Gillies MacKinnon
Screenwriter: Peter McDougall
Producers: Iain Maclean, Alan J. Wands
Director of photography: Nigel Willoughby
Production designer: Andy Harris
Costume designer: Gill Horn
Editor: Anne Sopel
Composer: Patrick Doyle