‘Whisky Galore!’ a Bit of a Bore

by Warren Cantrell on June 2, 2017

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Swiss Fist]

Just because one CAN remake a beloved classic doesn’t mean one necessarily SHOULD, yet here it is. Whisky Galore!, the somewhat cheeky and defiant 1949 U.K. classic has been rebooted, and while it’s a harmless and smartly assembled picture, it doesn’t bring anything new to the conversation.

The new version of Whisky Galore! stars Gregor Fisher as Mr. Macroon, the postmaster of the small (fictional) Scottish island of Todday. The story is set during 1943, and although World War II is raging in Africa and mainland Europe, the troubles of the outside world seem a universe away from Macroon and his neighbors. All of this changes when the town’s bartender announces that he’s exhausted the rationed whisky supplies, which turns the island into a dry community overnight. And while all of Todday’s inhabitants express some level of dismay over this newest development, Macroon has even bigger problems.

The father of two charming adult ladies, Macroon doesn’t just have the whisky draught to contend with, but also two looming marriages. His girls are both on the verge of accepting proposals from a pair of gentleman, which leaves the old postmaster with the prospect of an empty house and a short-staffed office in the very near future. It’s in the midst of all this drama that a merchant vessel wrecks just off the shore: the hull of the ship hung up precariously on a rocky outcrop less than a mile off the coast. The crew is saved without too much trouble, yet when the townsfolk learn that the abandoned cargo includes a couple thousand bottles of Scotland’s finest spirits, a proper rescue party is formed.

The meat of Whisky Galore! follows from here, with Macroon and his neighbors conspiring against the martinet Home-guard captain, Wagget (Eddie Izzard), to get the stranded scotch. There’s a fun bit of manipulation between Macroon and his prospective sons-in-law concerning the fetching of the whiskey, but this potentially amusing tangent is never really explored. Most of the drama revolves around the secrecy of the “rescue operation” and the attempts made to keep Wagget off the scent of things. And while casually funny and a necessary foil, Izzard’s character comes off as one-dimensional and straw-man-esque, and as a result he doesn’t enjoy much of any arc.

To be fair, though, the same could be said for most of the other characters, save for one of the Macroon daughter suitors and that man’s mother. Both of these ancillary characters seem to experience real change over the course of the couple of weeks the movie takes place, yet this narrative thread is a C-plot at best, and doesn’t have much bearing on the mechanics of the main whisky heist story. Even more frustrating, there’s little in the way of stakes and only a surface-level engagement of the main characters. How things will play out in the end is never really in doubt, and even if it was, no one in the movie ever appears to be in any real danger. The authorities, save Wagget, don’t seem to care if a whisky-starved community pockets a few doomed cases of scotch, and except for the island’s business-strapped bartender, everyone else on Todday is keen on the idea of some free booze.

In 1949, the story of a small island full of mild alcoholics thumbing their noses at authority and engaging in self-serving, low-level larceny was received as a welcome breath of fresh air. Only a few years removed from the austerity of the second Great War, and all the sacrifice and rationing that came with it, the original Whisky Galore! was essentially an invitation to laugh after a long period of sacrifice. It was finally acceptable to want for one’s self again, and the story of a U.K. community coming together to defy the establishment while salvaging a couple hundred cases of condemned booze played right into this collective sigh of relief.

The updated version keeps all of the core components of the original in place, but can’t duplicate the cathartic atmosphere of the original’s time and place. Although the cast does fine work, notably Izzard as Wagget and Naomi Battrick as Peggy Macroon, there’s little charge or spark to be found in the whole affair. Director Gillies MacKinnon does a great job framing his shots to make the Scottish coast and landscape their own character, yet it’s not enough to draw a viewer in all by itself.

Which isn’t to say that this updated version of Whisky Galore! is bad: because it isn’t. There’s just not a lot going on in the movie outside of the surface-level story about a good-natured whisky theft. There are a number of interesting threads that go un-tugged (is there really more to Wagget than meets the eye?), and a few opportunities for good drama that go completely unexplored (what if the suitors for the Macroon sisters weren’t immediately perfect?). Still, for fans of the 1949 original, this updated reboot will not offend, and might even charm. For those unfamiliar, the former, and not the latter, might well be the case.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and his own site, 10rant.com. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing. Mr. Cantrell is happily unmarried, and without any children, pets, or plants.

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