Release Date (UK) – July 29 2011
Country – UK
Director – Alexander Mackendrick
Certificate (UK) – PG
Runtime – 82 minutes
Starring – Basil Radford, Catherine Lacey, Gordon Jackson, Gabrielle Blunt, Bruce Seton, Joan Greenwood
Based on the Compton MacKenzie novel (which was in turn based on true events), a digitally restored Whisky Galore is hitting DVD and Blu-ray to delight a new generation as well as getting a limited cinema re-release. In 1941, the SS Politician was travelling from Liverpool to Jamaica with 250 000 cases of whisky, when it wrecked off the island or Eriskay, in the Outer Hebrides. MacKenzie relocates to the fictional island of Todday, and the year 1943 with this film. Geographically isolated from the mainland and the war rations, Todday has remained steady in it’s lifestyle, until the day the whisky runs dry. A doom descends over the villagers, and what’s a Scotsman to do without his scotch?
Luckily, on the day of the sabbath, the SS Cabinet Minister runs aground, with their cargo of 50,000 cases of whisky and the wily islanders salvage what they can. A cat-and-mouse game of hide the whisky ensues between them and the ships Captain Paul Waggett (Radford), who orders the men to leave the whisky well alone. In amidst the whisky, George Campbell (Jackson) is trying to marry Catriona (Blunt), but his mother will not let him. Sergeant Odd (Seton) has returned to the island to court Peggy (Greenwood), Catriona’s sister. Will the whisky help, or hinder?
Whisky Galore is a light hearted comedy, grounded with a strong community feel; everyone knows each other and has each other’s back, and does what they feel is right, whether or not it is bound by the law. It isn’t a laugh a minute, but the comedy is enduring and subtle, the set-ups long. The film gently pokes fun at the outsiders of the island; Peggy asks Odd to propose in Gaelic knowing that he does not speak it, and Waggett is given the runaround for many of the 82 minutes. It teases Waggett’s military authority too with a little more bite, showing that medals and rank don’t really count for anything in the face of good old-fashioned determination. He’s honest and decent enough, but always on the losing end.
The film is a nostalgic look back at the way alcohol was treated too, almost entirely positively. It gives Campbell the courage to stand up to his domineering mother, it unites the community, it allows Odd to gain Peggy’s father’s blessing for their marriage, it brings dancing and merriment, without any negative consequences shown. The script is well-paced, and the short running time means that the audience doesn’t tire; it ticks over pleasantly enough until the chuckle-worthy ending. The elements removed from the novel for the script aren’t missed, the plot arch presented is whole and enough to sustain the film. The landscape is also beautiful, with crashing waves, a sprawling beach, the beaten hills, to the cabin-like houses, all adding to the feel of a town out of time.
The characters seem to revel in this somewhat; Mrs Campbell (Jean Cadell) still refuses to let her son use the telephone on Sundays, as there will be no times to move with in an eternity in hell. She’s a tour-de-force, expertly condemning a sober George into a life of servitude. The old men are crotchety, the young women a little bit spunky and the actors maintain good onscreen chemistry, making Whisky Galore an enjoyable watch.
Special features include an audio commentary of the film by John Ellis, a TV documentary Distilling! Whisky Galore! about the making of the film, including interviews with some of the actors, The Real Whisky Galore! with Angus Campbell, discussing the real events that inspired the novel (20 minutes), a photo gallery, and a featurette with Hilary Mackendrick, the director’s wife, in conversation with Anthony Slide for 40 minutes. The extras aren’t comedic, more sternly informative in fleshing out the real, historical events that surround the novel and the film. It’s interesting stuff for sure, but maybe not how you’d want to spend an afternoon.
So if you’re in the mood for something comically vintage, Whisky Galore will cheer you up like knocking back a couple of drams yourself. Cheers (0
Whisky Galore is out on DVD and blu-ray on August 8th – order it here