Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

Richard E Grant's debut as writer/director is a dutifully entertaining and likeable semi-autobiographical piece of romanticised personal history. The film depicts the dual disintegration of British rule in Swaziland in the early Seventies and the Compton family's tumultuous relationship with one another.

The film opens with young Ralph Compton secretly witnessing the adulterous relationship between his mother (Miranda Richardson) and his father's friend. Framing them like prisoners in the front seat of a car, they keep schtum. The parents' marriage has been on the rocks for a while - they often insist on round-robin communication, with Ralph as the intermediary, alongside shouting matches and irritability. The parents separate and Ralph stays with his father, who begins to show the strain, reaching for the bottle.

Copy picture

Shot almost entirely on location, Wah-Wah looks positively delicious - Pierre Aim's photography captures light in a viscerally ravishing and colourful manner, frequently using space and lenses to wonderful effect (note the shot on the bridge between the teenage Ralph and his mother, the track and zoom shot exaggerating the distance from which they have drifted).

Grant's great skill with his first feature is making the disparate plot threads of Ralph's coming-of-age seem loose and free, merging nicely to form a soup of story and character, although he pushes the influence of A Clockwork Orange for more than it's worth. He trades well on the innate warmth and charm of his largely British cast against a strong personal drama.

Gabriel Byrne is a standout, as Harry Compton, learning to cope with his family's break-up and his own demons with tormented dignity. In the dual roles of Ralphie, aged 11 and 15, Zachary Fox and About A Boy's Nicholas Hoult require an immature skill, both fragile and youthful. Emily Watson shakes things up wonderfully as the sassy American stepmother, expressing disdain for the snobbish upper-class British colonials and the era that is soon to die.

A gorgeous opening for the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2005, Wah-Wah heralds the emergence of Grant as a real filmmaking talent.

Strongly recommended.

Reviewed on: 16 Aug 2005
Share this with others on...
Wah-Wah packshot
A boy grows up in a broken family as the winds of change blow through Swaziland.
Amazon link

Read more Wah-Wah reviews:

Jennie Kermode ****1/2
Angus Wolfe Murray ****

Director: Richard E Grant

Writer: Richard E Grant

Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Miranda Richardson, Nicholas Hoult, Emily Watson, Julie Walters, Celia Imrie, Julian Wadham, Fenella Woolgar, Sid Mitchell, Zachary Fox

Year: 2005

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK/France/South Africa


EIFF 2005

Search database: