WHISKY GALORE!, comedy, not rated, The Screen, 3 chiles
If you’re a purist fan of Whisky Galore!, the 1949 black-and-white British comedy about a cargo of whiskey shipwrecked off the coast of an island in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, you may not find much to drink to in this gentle, agreeable color remake by Gillies MacKinnon. The original, which was also released under the title Tight Little Island, was directed by the great Alexander Mackendrick (The Ladykillers, Sweet Smell of Success), and it’s a classic. But for later generations unlikely to be haunting the old movie vaults (it’s for sale on Amazon, but Netflix seems never to have heard of it), there’s a reasonable argument for a remake.
It’s derived from a true story, which in turn sparked a novel by Compton Mackenzie, on which both this new version, and the original, are based. In 1941, when wartime Britain was struggling along under rationing, and booze was in short supply, a freighter carrying 28,000 cases of whiskey to America struck some offshore rocks and sank. But not, according to Mackenzie’s tale, before the determined islanders managed to rescue at least some of its precious cargo.
This new version has the heft and style of the old Ealing comedies, with a strong cast, smart writing, and nice underplaying. Eddie Izzard is wonderfully restrained as Capt. Waggett, the zealous British Home Guard commander who is trying to impose law and order on an island full of thirsty Scots, and Fenella Woolgar (Doctor Who) is delightful as his pool-shooting, mildly supportive wife. Gregor Fisher (Love Actually) narrates the movie as Macroon, the island’s postmaster, whose two lovely daughters, Peggy and Catriona (Naomi Battrick and Ellie Kendrick, both splendid), add romance to this boozy anthem with their intendeds, the mama’s boy schoolteacher George (Kevin Guthrie) and young Sgt. Oddd (the euphoniously-named Sean Biggerstaff). The late Tim Piggott-Smith (Charles III) has a cameo. There’s nothing very surprising in the plot, as the precious cargo is salvaged and stored, discovered and hidden again, with an all-hands-ondeck effort by the parched denizens of the (fictional) Isle of Todday. The pleasure is in the execution, and the throwback feel of a kind of comedy that we don’t see much any more. This shot of Whisky Galore! has suffered the sting of dismissal by a broad swath of critics, which is too bad. It goes down smoothly, and leaves a pleasing glow.
The Todday show: Naomi Battrick (center)