The 70th annual Edinburgh International Film Festival closes with Gillies MacKinnon’s Whisky Galore; the true life adaptation of the island of Todday’s great Whisky heist after a ship carrying several thousand crates runs aground.
Whisky Galore is a remake of a 1949 film of the same name and is set during World War II which largely doesn’t mean an awful lot for the island of Todday other than rationing eventually creating a situation where there isn’t a drop of Whisky on the island. Being Scottish that means that I can safely say that separating a Scottish community from their alcohol is just about the worst thing imaginable.
The situation is taken seriously but also played for laughs when someone literally dies when they realise that all of the Whisky is gone. It’s not a death that is meant to be tragic; it’s meant to make a point about how obsessed Scottish people are with Whisky. As a Scot I wonder if I should be offended by the stereotype but considering this being a home grown film and the fact that something about the reaction to having no access to alcohol just feels right means that I really can’t take offense.
When the ship runs aground the community hatch a plan to liberate the cargo before it sinks but are stuck for a day because Sunday has just hit and Todday is very strict about observing the Sabbath which means that they go to Church where they all get a severe dressing down from the minister (James Cosmo) and don’t do a lot else. Even making a phone call is considered to be some kind of affront to the Lord. It’s all so delightfully dogmatic and old fashioned that you can’t help but laugh at it.
Much of the film involves the people of the island enjoying their plundered goods and working to keep it hidden from the leader of the Home Guard Captain Wagget (Eddie Izzard) who takes his backwater position far too seriously. There’s a lot of capering as he incompetently tries to find the whisky that he knows is on the island and the people concoct elaborate schemes to keep it hidden from him. This is something that wouldn’t be out of place on Dad’s Army and overall this is far more successful than the recent film adaptation.
I don’t know much about the real events but something tells me they wouldn’t be nearly as goofy as this film is. Goofy is the best word to describe it as everyone living on the island of Todday act as if they live in an old sitcom.
Most of the characters are stereotypes in one way or another that only exist to serve a particular function in the ensemble and the situations are so ridiculously larger than life that none of it feels quite real when stacked up beside the sort of behaviour we observe from real people.
Despite that there is a sense of reality about the whole thing in that the actors fully commit to their performances so the characters always feel endearing and have rich implied backstories. The setting of the sleepy island cut off from larger civilisation also lends a bit of creative freedom to establish a group of people who seem very odd yet appear normal to each other.
The setting is the most interesting thing here as it feels like a living breathing community with a rich history to it. This is aided by the eclectic group of characters both young and old who populate it. I’ve already mentioned Eddie Izzard who is a perfect fit for this sort of material and does a great job here. Gregor Fisher and Kevin Guthrie particularly impress as representatives from they older and younger island inhabitants. There is also the less than reputable young women in the form of Catriona and Peggy (Ellie Kendrick and Naomi Battrick) so there’s a good range of characters even if they are a bit thin.
When it’s all said and done all they really talk about is Whisky with not a lot of conversational variety to speak of but it fits the focus of the film so it works well enough. The eclectic bunch do create a lot of laughs with their sitcom personalities making them just shy of capable when they do anything. There isn’t much depth but it is fun to spend a short time with this group of people and it’s an enjoyable viewing experience.
An amusing film that feels a little hyperreal but generally works. Most of the characters feel like they are a 1 dimensional sitcom character and most of the dialogue is about Whisky but it all comes together well enough. Eddie Izzard steals the show as the incompetent leader of the Home Guard and the rest of the cast take to their roles skilfully. It’s a charming film and a very enjoyable viewing experience.
- amusing moments
- Eddie Izzard
- a well developed setting
- thinly developed characters