Dir: Gilles MacKinnon | Cast: Eddie Izzard, James Cosmo | Drama | UK
Alexander McKendrick’s 1949 screen adaptation of Compton McKenzie’s true story is an Ealing classic fondly remembered for its feisty depiction of the fearless folks of Todday Island in the Scottish Outer Hebrides and their attempts to recover the whisky cargo from a shipwrecked boat.
Quite why Gilles MacKinnon has decided on a remake of this popular arthouse gem is questionable given the high status it holds in the collective memory and the lacklustre cast he has selected to replace the originals: Basil Radford, Joan Greenwood, Gordon Jackson and James Robertson Justice.
The film is set during the Second World War when the Scottish Islands were a reasonably tranquil outpost in the war effort but impacted nevertheless by a serious dearth of whisky brought on by a breakdown of supplies. When a ship runs aground on a rocky outcrop, the residents club together to relieve the vessel of its precious liquid cargo. Hampered by a slowdown due to the Sabbath Sunday, the islanders are forced into ingenious ways of overcoming strict religious observances enforced by the local minister Macalister (James Cosmo). The only other spanner in the works is – naturally an Englishman – Captain Wagget (Eddie Izzard), who is tasked with maintaining order as Head of the Home Guard.
MacKinnon’s film beautifully evokes this period in history with painterly set design and some magnificent local scenery of the glorious location. Nigel Willoughby captures summer on the island which glows with lush landscapes and wonderfully vibrant seascapes, clouds scudding by. Patrick Doyle’s original score compliments the narrative but the witty script falls flat on mediocre performances that lack the star quality needed to lift the film in Mackendrick’s brilliant 1949 league. The Home Guard appears to be modelled on the characters from Dad’s Army and are a pale imitation, borrowed again from another inimitable national treasure and cannot compete with Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier or Arnold Ridley. Some viewers may also be offended by the indelicate racial subtext that creeps into some of the dialogue and feels out of place for modern audiences.
That said, this is a decent if rather tame period piece, totally lacking drama but hopefully instrumental in reviving the treasured forties classic original. MT
ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 19 MAY 2017