Whisky Galore!

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Whisky Galore! remake is EIFF's closing gala
"This particular malt is a wee charmer in its own right."

Remaking a film as well-loved as Whisky Galore! always prompts audiences to expect disappointment, so let's get that out of the way first. Though the stories (apart from one new subplot) are extremely similar, and both are comedies, the tone of the two films is different. The remake does't try to recreate the character of the original, and wisely so, because blends (at least in Scotland) are never worth drinking. This particular malt is a wee charmer in its own right.

Let's begin with central character and occasional narrator Mr Macroon, who runs the post office on the little island of Todday (originally Barra, now mainland Aberdeenshire village Portsoy). For Scottish viewers, who have known Gregor Fisher as Glaswegian alcoholic Rab C Nesbitt for 26 years, it's fascinating to see him delivering something very different in this role, reminding us that he's far more than a one note actor. His gently paced performance immediately get us running on island time. Life for the islanders is not proceeding as usual, however, because the far away war against the Nazis means rationing. How are the people of Todday supposed to cope when the whisky runs dry?

Copy picture

On the 5th of February 1941, cargo ship the SS Politician ran aground off Eriskay whilst carrying 260,000 bottles of whisky. After saving the crew, the locals liberated 24,000 of those bottles before the wreck was dynamited by a disapproving customs officer. These events inspired the original film but were handled with some care because the issue was still a sensitive one, with rationing still in effect and public opinion split on the morality of it. This film takes a different slant, assuming that viewers will be wholeheartedly on the side of the islanders from the outset and offering little in the way of contrary opinion. It does pay heed to the strict Calvinism of some in the region, with Annie Louise Ross perfect as the dour Mrs Campbell, but she is less concerned with legal matters than with a son (Kevin Guthrie) who misbehaves and has the temerity to want to get married.

Scottish cast members astutely capture the little hypocrasies and knowing humour found in much island culture. English cast members have fun sending up the stereotypes, with Eddie Izzard a prim Captain Wagget and Fenella Woolgar delightfully louche as Dolly. English actors playing Scottish characters provide a good bit of what is probably unintentional extra humour with their wandering accents. There's an overall warmth to the film that encourages viewers to be forgiving where necessary. And though the film might be accused of lacking bite, it does take the time to remind us of a little of the politics behind the war, and of the fact that King and country were not always wholeheartedly on the same side.

There's a place in the world for gentle comedies, and a place in most people's hearts for good whisky. This may not be the best you've ever tasted, but it'll warm your cockles.

Reviewed on: 11 May 2017
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Remake of the island classic.
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