If the great Ealing Studios’ 1949 version of Whisky Galore! didn’t exist, director Gillies MacKinnon’s excellent 2016 version would be an even better film than it is. That’s an odd compliment, I know. But the original film’s boozy aroma lingers heavily in the corners of this newer version, smiling down on MacKinnon’s capable cast as it plops down on a bar stool with a sigh of contentment. This newer film has a fine cast and some absolutely gorgeous cinematography (it’s enough to make you want to consider a move to wherever in Scotland it was shot just for the rocks alone), as well as humor that goes down smooth with a bit of water added.
While not exactly laugh out loud funny through and through, there’s one early scene that had me doubling over with a good belly laugh. As soon as it’s announced that the small village is completely out of whisky, one old chap gets up, walks out of the pub he and his friends inhabit daily, walks over to a his home and promptly drops dead outside as it begins to rain. For some reason, I found this hilarious as well as the following scene where his friends gather around his coffin to send him off. I’m guessing it’s because I’ve heard people say they’d “literally die” if they didn’t have a particular guilty pleasure handy, but seeing it happen was actually amusing and made me think how many real-life friends would drop like that over booze, chocolate, or bacon if they were suddenly taken away.
Hey, I’m a practical man. Less friends means less gifts to buy this holiday season, folks.
Anyway (hey, where did all my friends disappear to?), the film is loosely based on a true story of an island out thataway going dry in 1941 and soon afterwards, a ship running aground carrying 50,000 cases of whisky leading to some desperate measures by the thirsty citizenry. It’s pretty much a simple story well told where you know what’s going to happen because all the puzzle pieces are laid out in the forms of the assorted characters the plot presents. This is a film where you root for the underdogs, hiss at those trying to stop their necessary thievery and hope the cute lassies with the overbearing but lovable father find love with their chosen laddies. Yep, this one’s a checklist of well-worn bits that still work because it’s all so charming at the end of the day.
The nifty thing is, there aren’t any real “villains” here other than the characters mentioning what’s going on over in a much more besieged England and Europe of the era. The closest things to “mean” are one lead character’s prune-faced mom (who livens up considerably by the end) and a solid Eddie Izzard as by the book Captain Waggett with some of the overly cranky men who later show up to search for the missing booze after it’s been uncovered that the ship has been plundered by the locals. Still, it’s only a matter of outpacing them in terms of staying a step ahead in storage and a few hundred yards ahead during a road chase later on. That the film holds few surprises works in its favor because it’s something you can toss on and play with a drink in one hand and a drink in the other (if that’s your thing, or you can use apple cider if you’re not a tippler) and not feel a tinge of guilt.
Just make sure to have the original handy as a chaser just so you can see the differences (and see both versions work well enough to be enjoyed whether you’re a drinker or not). I guess this works as a Thanksgiving flick as well because the folks on that island sure have a lot to be thankful for despite a few turkeys trying to spoil their fun, (*Hic!*).
Score: B+ (85%)
Review copy provided by the publisher