Film review: Whisky Galore!

The Whisky Galore! closed the film festival. Picture: Graeme Hunter
The Whisky Galore! closed the film festival. Picture: Graeme Hunter
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Under artistic director Mark Adams, the 70th Edinburgh International Film Festival has been a pretty bland affair, full of that’ll-do complacency and lacking any real vision – something symbolised, sadly, by closing night film Whisky Galore!

EIFF 2016 Closing Night Gala | Whisky Galore | Rating **

A long-gestating remake of Alexander Mackendrick’s 1949 classic, it’s a flat and rather pointless retread, gentle to the point of being soporific and a waste of a wonderful cast.

Revolving around the efforts of a group of wily Scottish islanders to liberate crates of whisky from a shipwrecked trawler during a wartime drought, the original has become a fascinating snapshot of the period, something that elevates its appeal beyond simple nostalgia.

In some respects that should have liberated the remake, enabling it to put a fresh spin on the story; instead it feels like a parody of its inspiration, its most famous scenes recreated with modern actors playing dress up.

Director Gillies Mackinnon (Small Faces) may have resisted the urge to turn this into a straight-up caper film, but in doing so the whimsy has become wearisome, dulled by characters grappling with low-stakes personal dilemmas that seem old-fashioned viewed from a contemporary perspective.

Amid the ensemble cast, Gregor Fisher is the nominal lead as Macroon, the film’s narrator and postmaster of the fictional Hebridean island of Todday.

His two grown-up daughters are on the cusp of marriage and while he’s secretly anxious about being on his own, any depth of feeling is diluted by the film’s half-hearted efforts to pit him and the other islanders against Eddie Izzard’s officious Captain Waggett when their whisky-laden ship comes in.

As in the original, Waggett is intent on upholding the law, but he’s not enough of a threat to their fun for their cheeky anti-authoritarianism to be all that endearing.

When they are forced to squirrel all the whisky away in inventive hiding places, the sequence has none of the comic power it had in the original, when its riff on the Gestapo house-to-house searches prominent in wartime thrillers was current. A subplot involving an additional discovery of sensitive-to-the-establishment letters also goes nowhere. Indeed the whole film feels as marooned as its shipwrecked freighter, stuck in a weird time warp with no idea of how to move forward. It concludes with the cinematic equivalent of a shoulder shrug – which again seems fitting at the end of what should have been a banner year for the festival.