Whisky Galore star on how the original will never be matched

Donald Currie  says the island has changed a lot since the old film. The new one was made on mainland. Picture: contributed
Donald Currie says the island has changed a lot since the old film. The new one was made on mainland. Picture: contributed
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HE was just four years of age when he won a starring role in one of Scotland’s all-time classic films.

Seven decades later, Donald Currie reckons the new version of Whisky Galore has no chance of replacing the original in the nation’s affections.

But he admits he would have jumped at the chance to resume his on-screen career alongside Eddie Izzard and Gregor Fisher – if the makers of the film had chosen to return to his native Barra.

The 73-year-old is believed to be the last surviving star of the original screen adaptation of Compton Mackenzie’s novel, which was inspired by the real-life drama that unfolded when an 8,000-tonne cargo ship ran around off the neighbouring island of Eriskay.

The story will return to the spotlight on Sunday when Glasgow-born director Gillies Mackinnon’s new version has its world premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Mr Currie is not surprised about the enduring interest in the story of the SS Politician, which ran into trouble en route from Liverpool to Jamaica and New Orleans, and the “pilfering and smuggling” of the islanders.

But he admits to some disappointment that locations scattered around the country, including Portsoy in Aberdeenshire, Greenock in Renfrewshire, and St Monans, in Fife, were used rather than Barra or Eriskay, where some of the whisky from the SS Politician is on display in a pub named after the stricken ship.

Mr Currie, who was filmed near his home at Earsary, was one of many islanders to land roles in director Alexander Mackendrick’s version, which starred Basil Radford, Joan Greenwood and Gordon Jackson.

It took him several years to get to see himself on screen in the village hall in Castlebay that had earlier been pressed into action in 1948 as a base for the Ealing Studios production.

He said: “I can’t remember exactly how I ended up in it, although I remember there were a lot of kids running around and swimming in the sea while they were filming.

“I must have been about nine or ten before I realised it was a big deal. I can remember going to see it in Castlebay Hall, which had an old projector, on a Saturday night. It was packed out. It brings back memories when I see myself on screen. It’s hard to believe that it’s me.

“I’m sure I’ll watch the new version when it arrives here. It’s a shame they didn’t come back here to film it. I’d have liked to be in it, as I’m a bit older and wiser now! I was a bit surprised when I heard they were making it. It won’t be as good as the old one. I don’t think it will ever replace it.

“It would’ve been good to have had the filming back on Barra, but there’s been a lot of changes. Some of the old buildings have gone now. The island has changed an awful lot since then. We had no power at the time and we had to go to wells for water. Everybody kept hens and cattle in those days. We used to have ceilidhs all time. There’s not so many of the old characters now – but there are still a few around.

“I love the place – the peace and quiet, the scenery, the beaches and the wildlife. I was actually born in Glasgow. We moved here as my father was in the Merchant Navy before me. I’ve been here ever since.”