It didn’t surprise me in the slightest to find out that the Scottish film Whisky Galore! was, in fact, a remake of a 1949 Ealing Studios work (which in turn was an adaptation of a novel by Compton Mackenzie). The London-based Ealing had a long and wonderful history is making offbeat, dark comedies, with several of their most popular and noted works coming in the 10 years or so after World War II, including such films as Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob, and The Ladykillers (all of which starred Alec Guinness). This remake comes courtesy of director Gillies MacKinnon (Hideous Kinky) and writer Peter McDougall, and still tells the supposedly true story of a remote Scottish island called Todday during WWII.
Although the war never really reached the isle directly, it did in other ways, including a rationing of whisky to its devoutly thirsty population. One day, the local pub owner announced that the whisky has run out, and the town grows collectively grumpy and short tempered. There are other distracting subplots throughout the film, including a couple of love stories involving a pair of sisters, Peggy and Catriona Macroon (Naomi Battrick and Ellie Kendrick, respectively), who are both being wooed by men not eager to confront their overprotective postmaster father (Gregor Fisher from Love Actually). Aside from that, this is a story about an island filled with drunks.
As if God reached down to solve the problem him/herself, a cargo ship headed for the Americas runs into some rocks just off the coast of the Todday, and it just happens to be filled with 50,000 cases of Whisky, just waiting to be salvaged in secret by the locals, who go to great lengths to keep their activities away from the probing eyes of both the local minister and the home guard commander, the inept Capt. Wagget (Eddie Izzard, who is acting in an entirely different movie that consists of nothing but silly walks and overplaying your part like he’s in an episode of “The Benny Hill Show”). Wagget seems eager to catch the villagers with bottles in hand, but they are smart enough to keep the thousands of battles out of sight.
There’s really nothing to Whisky Galore!, especially nothing resembling drama. Some of the observations about the locals and their odd ways might amuse audience members, but even that seems like a bit of an easy target. Everyone on the island is more character than person, and after a while I spent more time looking at the lovely scenery and quaint locations than what was actually going on regarding the illegal contraband. I won’t lie and say it wasn’t a little disturbing to see how nasty the townspeople got when they couldn’t drink and how greedy they behaved once the amber elixir was in sight once again. Still, the film is meant to be lighthearted, and that’s mostly what it is—a pleasant distraction, a harmless distraction, and low-grade wackiness.
The film opens today for a weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center.