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Gavin Schmitt

Blu-ray Review: "Whisky Galore" (2016)

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Set in the Second World War when whisky rationing is in effect, Scottish islanders of the Outer Hebrides try to plunder cases of whisky from a ship that is stranded on rocks just offshore, based loosely on the real events of the 1941 sinking of the SS Politician.

The production story of this film may be just as interesting as the film itself. Producer Iain Maclean had launched the project as early as 2004 with writer-director Bill Bryden attached. Maclean raised funds through private investment to finance the development of the film. Bryden ended up getting fired, and Peter McDougall was brought on board; he wrote a new script with filming planned for the summer of 2006. This never happened, producers left the project and the film eventually collapsed. In 2014, a decade after his first attempt, Maclean decided to rekindle the project when he met retired farmer and businessman Peter Drayne, who agreed to finance the film completely, as long as the project was started from scratch. Thanks to Drayne, the film was finally green-lit in 2015 and principal photography commenced later that year in Scotland.

Kevin Guthrie explains another part of the film preparation when he says, "I had no real understanding of whisky until we made the film but I think we're all self-proclaimed connoisseurs off the back of it now. We spent time going to distilleries, not just to have a drink, but to understand why it is what it is and why it's a global product. To understand why it's revered. We went to Glenfarclas distillery and they gave us a little sampling of the 105 which is special, too." This is an interesting insight, because such a trip and research was clearly not necessary, but does give food for thought on how deep the love and jot surrounding a social drink can be.

According to director Gillies MacKinnon, the film is a modern interpretation, rather than a proper remake of the 1949 Alexander Mackendrick movie of the same name. He says, "The style is contemporary, embracing drama, romance and comedy, with an array of colorful characters providing a platform for a wonderful cast." Indeed, while still clearly a remake, the entire feel and tone of the picture is different and can easily be seen as its own creation in many ways. The very color scheme and rich cinematography separate this film from its earlier incarnation.

The biggest name attached to the production (either behind or in front of the camera) is comedian Eddie Izzard (though Kevin Guthrie's stock is skyrocketing). Here, he plays the "straight" role, and interestingly enough Izzard does not claim that the film is a comedy at all. He prefers to think of it as a "quirky drama". That is a rather astute observation. While there are comedic elements, he is right -- this is more about family dynamics than a silly island film like "Hot Fuzz".

There is not much in the negative that can be said about the film. Guy Lambert calls out the "seriously questionable Scottish accents", but that is relatively minor. Guy Lodge sums it up as "innocuous" but "unmemorable", which is really the biggest downside. In all technical aspects, the movie is good -- script, directing, camera, acting and so on... there is nothing to dislike. But nothing really stands out, either.

While maybe not a film for repeat viewings, it definitely has its place. Arrow Films has released the movie on Blu-ray, with a few features. There are a handful of short interviews on their disc with just about every actor involved, as well as the director. Beyond that we get relatively little, which is a shame. It may have been nice to get a newsreel of the original (true) story or something to really put it all in context.

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