Whisky Galore!, 2016.
Directed by Gillies MacKinnon,
Starring Gregor Fisher, Eddie Izzard, Ellie Kendrick, Kevin Guthrie, Fenella Woolgar and James Cosmo.
It’s 1941, rationing is in force and the residents of the Scottish island of Todday are faced with a nightmare. Their supply of whisky has run out and the island is completely dry. But then a cargo ship runs aground on some nearby rocks and it’s carrying 50,000 cases of whisky. The islanders are determined to get their hands on it. All that stands in their way is that it’s the Sabbath – and the officers from Customs and Excise.
Alexander Mackendrick’s Whisky Galore! from 1949 is regarded as a British comedy classic. Compton Mackenzie had taken the true story of a ship – with its cargo of whisky – going aground off a remote Scottish island, turned it into a popular comic novel and then wrote the script for the film. The real incident happened during World War II, so it was a no-brainer than the islanders would want to get their hands as much of the nectar as they could.
Now we have a re-make. Why? When the original is so winning and so funny, what’s the point? The story is still much the same and so are the characters. In other words, the film can’t answer the question, which makes it an even more aimless, pointless affair, and one that’s burdened with a heavy irony. As far as the islanders are concerned, the drink at the centre of the story is the water of life, but there’s precious little life in the film.
Like its illustrious predecessor, this is meant to be a comedy, but it’s remarkably flat, dull and certainly with precious few laughs. None of what are meant to be the gags hit the target, even though they’re all very obvious. In fact, they’re signposted to such an extent that the little boy with the semaphore flags – the islanders’ warning system while they’re hiding the cargo – seems to be there in spirit, making sure that we know when to laugh. The problem is we don’t. The timing is so off and they’re delivered in such a leaden way that they simply don’t stand a chance.
And the characterization isn’t much better. This type of film draws its humour from the people themselves and you expect to see lots of “characters”. Yet again, that doesn’t happen. Instead, we’re given caricatures, and clumsy ones at that. Eddie Izzard’s Captain Wagget, who heads up the Home Guard, is little more than Dad’s Army’s Captain Mainwaring in a beret and, being English, a gleeful target for the islanders. His wife, played by Fenella Woolgar, is a giggling toff and so it goes on. Actors of the calibre of Gregor Fisher, Ellie Kendrick and James Cosmo simply go to waste.
It’s also desperately slow. There’s no sense of tension while the whisky is being retrieved, nor when the Customs and Excise officers arrive on the island to track it down. There’s just more flatness, and it’s not helped by the sequence on the Sabbath where nothing happens for at least fifteen minutes. A quarter of an hour is a long time in the movies.
If Whisky Galore! had to be remade, it needed Bill Forsyth at the helm: it cries out for his delicate touch and knowing irony. OK, it might have turned out to be a Boozy Local Hero, but it would have been infinitely preferable to the watered down version that we’re given. This scotch is most definitely on the rocks.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★/ Movie: ★ ★