Remake of Whisky Galore! hits the rocks amid storm over snub to Scots

FOR Ealing comedy read Hebridean farce. Plans to shoot a new £10m version of the classic Whisky Galore! later this summer have been cancelled with the film-makers arguing over anti-Scottish casting, finance and whether the project will go ahead at all.

The remake was one of Scotland's most eagerly anticipated films in years, with top Scottish actors keen for starring roles.

But while producers blame uncertainty over tax for stalling the project, its Bafta-winning Scottish writer claims the money was already in place.

According to Peter McDougall, the film was halted because his fellow film-makers snubbed some of Scotland's leading actors in favour of a fruitless pursuit of English stars such as Ricky Gervais.

An angry McDougall, who wrote the script and is also a producer, said: "I put a lot of work into this and I'm not happy about the way it has been conducted. It's been a disaster from day one."

He said he was particularly alarmed when he saw an early version of the cast list. "There were five Sirs on it... and there wasn't a single f***ing Scottish actor," he said.

The original film was shot on Barra in 1948 and starred a host of Scottish stars, including James Robertson Justice, Duncan Macrae and Gordon Jackson, with Basil Radford as the officious English Home Guard captain Waggett.

The film follows the attempts by the residents of the fictional island of Todday to retrieve a cargo of whisky from the SS Cabinet Minister after it runs aground. It was based on a novel by Compton Mackenzie, which in turn was inspired by the wreck of the SS Politician off Eriskay in 1941.

McDougall, who won Bafta awards for the Jimmy Boyle drama A Sense Of Freedom, Just A Boy's Game and Down Among The Big Boys, said his involvement led to approaches from several leading Scottish actors who were personal friends. Head of the queue was Robbie Coltrane, star of Cracker and the Harry Potter movies, but McDougall claimed the producers could also have signed up Brian Cox, Robert Carlyle and Kevin McKidd.

McDougall claimed his fellow producers were too hung up on getting "star names" from England and the US.

He said: "They had access to all these people and somehow they came up with Ricky Gervais and Steve Coogan. They were going to have him [Gervais] as Captain Waggett and I said 'Why?' They said: 'Oh, he's big in America.'"

Coltrane was a star in his own right, McDougall said, and wanted to play the role of the local doctor, previously played by James Robertson Justice, while McKidd would have played the Gordon Jackson role of the teacher.

"It wasn't that I punted them in any way, but they had both read the script, so they had them on board more or less," the writer said. "They [the producers] only had to deal with agents and it all fell apart."

Meanwhile, Brian Cox was prepared to play the islanders' ringleader Macroon, but the producers wanted Peter O'Toole, McDougall claimed.

The prime movers in the remake are the two lead producers, Lewis-born Iain Maclean, whose area of expertise is information technology, not film, and Ed Crozier, with a background in financial services.

The pair hope to appeal to a new generation with a colour version of the movie, and approached Canal Plus, the French company that had inherited the rights to the Ealing comedies through a series of takeovers.

Crozier and Maclean secured a public endorsement from Sir Sean Connery, though early hopes that he would appear in the film came to nothing. The film then went through two directors and acquired another four producers, including scriptwriter McDougall.

Filming was scheduled for last summer, then this spring, then late summer. Crozier confirmed finance was in place as recently as May. But the film has now been officially postponed because, Crozier says, new tax credits which will give film-makers valuable commercial incentives worth up to 20% of budgets still have to be approved by the UK parliament.

"It's very unlikely that the Act won't get royal assent," said Crozier. "But in the event that it doesn't, and if producers have gone ahead and chanced starting shooting in the hope of getting the tax credit, it will be very likely that they could be personally liable for the outstanding amount."

Crozier insists the postponement had nothing to do with casting, and that it was only for six months.

But McDougall said: "This is the third time it's been postponed. And postponed means it's not going to happen."