Film release – Whisky Galore!
Usually there is an outcry from purists when a beloved classic is given a contemporary makeover, but this one brings something new to the table, especially through Gregor Fisher, best known for his portrayal of Rab C Nesbitt, and the stand-up comedian Eddie Izzard, as bungling Captain Wagget.
The Ealing Studios original was a sepia-toned classic directed in 1949 by Alexander Mackendrick and based on the novel by Sir Compton Mackenzie. Gillies Mackinnon’s remake was premiered at last year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival and goes on general release this week.
It is filmed on location in Scotland and focuses on the wartime SS Politician which ran aground off the Outer Hebrides in 1941 with a huge whisky cargo heading to New York. The story evolves around the drought-stricken inhabitants and their attempts to plunder 50,000 cases from the stranded ship.
Fisher, as postmaster Macroon, provides the moral centre, delivering bathos and pathos in equal dollops as the narrator of the story.
His personal war is with the police, the Home Guard and the suitors of his two daughters Catriona (Ellie Kendrick) and Peggy (Naomi Battrick). One is a simpering mother’s boy played by Kevin Guthrie (Sunshine on Leith) while Sean Biggerstaff is a sergeant at arms.
This is a remake that was waiting to be made. It delivers and delights. From the opening moments the tone is sweetly set with beautiful cinematography by Nigel Willoughby (Downton Abbey) and an authentic music score by Patrick Doyle.
James Cosmo (Braveheart, Trainspotting) as the tippling minister who doesn’t practice what he preaches, gives thunderous sermons inciting chaos on the island. This is a more meaty part for Cosmo who delivered a mere short cameo in the recent T2.
Heading up the Home Guard is Izzard’s bungling Captain Wagget. This is a self-deprecating performance from the master of surreal stand-up.
He gets a lot of screen time, and deservedly so as he tries to marshall his so-called troops, led by Biggerstaff’s sergeant and a raggedy band of islanders who make Dad’s Army look like a killing machine.
All the set piece scenes of the original are there, the late night shindigs, and the cat and mouse chases across the island as the locals attempt to thwart the authorities at every turn.
Long suffering spouse Fenella Woolgar is handed some lovely lines by Peter McDougall. As the SS Cabinet Minister is washed up on a Sunday off the island of Todday, she archly advises her husband to give up the fight. “Anarchy on a Sunday on Todday? The birds are not allowed to tweet on the Sabbath,” she says. This is devilishly Joyce Grenfell-esque, as are her utterings of “tally-ho” and “hush hush.”
The stellar cast includes Brian Pettifer, a sometimes overlooked bit player, and small supporting parts by John Sessions as the island’s steely medic, and the late Tim Pigott-Smith as an army barmy colonel looking for his share of the loot.
The island is the real star of the piece. It’s a love letter to Scotland.
Whisky Galore! release date 5 May
Director: Gillies Mackinnon
Script: Peter McDougall