Hebridean musician's anger over islanders' portrayal in new Whisky Galore!

One of Scotland's leading traditional musicians has accused the makers of the new version of Whisky Galore! of 'verging on being racist' with their depiction of islanders.
Eddie Izzard and Gregor Fisher lead the cast of the new version of Whisky Galore.Eddie Izzard and Gregor Fisher lead the cast of the new version of Whisky Galore.
Eddie Izzard and Gregor Fisher lead the cast of the new version of Whisky Galore.

Angus MacPhail, a founder member of the Hebridean band Skipinnish, and the west coast record label of the same name, branded the star-studded adaptation of Compton Mackenzie’s book a “sneering, snide, arrogant interpretation of a very clever and able population.”

Like the original 1947 novel and the Ealing Comedy which followed two years later, the new version - which stars Eddie Izzard and Gregor Fisher - follows the efforts of a group of islander to plunder thousands of whisky from a stranded ship.

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It is based on the real-life 1941 incident when the SS Politician, an 8000-tonne cargo ship which left Liverpool for Jamaica and New Orleans with 260,000 bottles of whisky on board, ran aground off the coast of Eriskay, in the Outer Hebrides.

Tiree-born MacPhail said the “amazing” true story, Mackenzie’s novel and “one of the finest comedies of the 20th century” had been “truly torn to bits, mixed up, had the guts of it removed, been blindly thrown together with an end result that is as funny as filling in a tax return with toothache.”

Writing in his local newspaper, MacPhail said: “There is a very fine line with caricaturing an ethnic group in comedy, and Compton MacKenzie in his book and the makers of the original Ealing film hit the balance perfectly.

“The suspension of disbelief was allowed to flow throughout both, and the portrayal of islanders, albeit with essential comic exaggeration, was authentic. Not so with the new one. If you’re going to take the mickey out of islanders, you should make sure you understand them and make sure it is funny.

“What the makers of this disastrous drudge have done is akin to adding half a pint of Fanta, some tomato ketchup and a bag of marshmallows to an aged and beautiful single malt.”

The production team behind the new Whisky Galore! film declined to comment on MacPhail’s views.

The Whisky Galore! remake has only just been released in the UK despite getting the launchpad of a world premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, which selected it as its closing gala.

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Asked whether a remake of Whisky Galore was in some way “sacrilegious” last year, Fisher told The Scotsman: “Would Laurence Olivier have thought that when he was playing Richard II? It’s just a story.

“I knew the original black and white film and this isn’t a remake. It’s a retelling. We’ve taken a story and are telling it our way.”

In his review for The Scotsman, film critic Alistair Harkness said: “The whole film feels as marooned as its shipwrecked freighter, stuck in a weird time warp with no idea of how to move forward.”

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