Whisky Galore! movie review: leave it in the bottle

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Whisky Galore red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

The cast is charming, but this listless and mysteriously unfunny cover of the 1949 Ealing comedy doesn’t seem to have bothered to look for a good reason to exist.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): love the original film
I’m “biast” (con): love the original film
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Why remake a beloved classic film? This new version of Whisky Galore!, a listless cover of the delightful 1949 Ealing comedy, hasn’t found a good reason. It doesn’t even seem to have bothered to look for one.

On a small remote Scottish island, the whisky has just run out… and since it’s 1943 and there’s a war on, there’s little chance of replenishment. Until a cargo ship carrying tens of thousands of cases of the amber-colored water of life grounds itself nearby, and the temptation to just haul it away becomes too great for the islanders to resist. The cast is reliably charming, but the islanders are little more than twee caricaturestweet: the pretty and plucky sisters (Naomi Battrick and Ellie Kendrick [The Levelling]), their insipid fiancés (Sean Biggerstaff [Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets] and Kevin Guthrie [Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them]), the sourpuss schoolmarm (Annie Louise Ross: Trainspotting), the dour postmaster (Gregor Fisher: Wild Target), the grumpy doctor (John Sessions: Denial), etc, etc. And Eddie Izzard (The Lego Batman Movie) seems to be reigning himself waaaay intweet as the posh army captain the townspeople are all doing an end-run around, which is a real shame.

“I say, chaps, do let me know if you stumble across a reason for our movie to exist!”
“I say, chaps, do let me know if you stumble across a reason for our movie to exist!”tweet

In 1949, a light comedy about a humorous wartime deprivation must have felt like a relief, like a long-held breath of anxiety and fear letting itself go. And the film’s jocular tweaking of an upper-class authority figure must have felt both transgressive and like a sneaky embrace of the collapse of social and cultural mores in the wake of the war and in the early years of their restructuring. Obviously, there is plenty of room in such a story for a new resonance for today’s upended world to emerge, but that never happens. Worse, this new movie manages to be entirely unfunny. If it can’t make us laugh and doesn’t want to make us think, what is the point of it?tweet

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Fri, May 12, 2017 9:27pm

the Ealing movie Whiskey Galore (aka Tight Little Island) is one of my all-time favorite movies. it doesn’t just tweak wartime deprivation, upperclass englishman and authority figures, it does say a lot about human nature of people stuck (or residing) in a small place where everyone knows everyone else. i love that movie and wondered, even from the ads, why this remake? just to make it in color? i love eddie izzard passionately but thought even then, what a waste of him.

reply to  bronxbee
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MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  bronxbee
Sat, May 13, 2017 9:20am

I thought of you a lot while watching this film, not just because you introduced me to the original, but knowing how disappointed you’d be by this one.

reply to  bronxbee
Tue, May 23, 2017 10:20am

I have heard that there are people who won’t watch black-and-white films, but I’ve never met one. (Selection bias, no doubt.)

Sat, May 13, 2017 8:30pm

While very few Americans recall (or even saw) this film, those who did realized what a gem it was. With there being very few nostalgic connectors to this little masterpiece, it seems a very curious choice fir a remake. I cannot imagine the audience for this thing; were tax benefits involved?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Beowulf
Sun, May 14, 2017 2:00pm

There are almost always tax benefits involved in film production, but they reduce costs. And the budget was tiny here. It will probably eventually make a profit, if only a small one.