Gillies Mackinnon’s Whisky Galore! follows in the tradition of such British charmers as Local Hero, Waking Ned Devine, and The Full Monty, another quirky tale of a small community coming together when facing unexpected challenges. It’s 1943, and WWII has not quite made it to the remote (and fictional) Scottish island of Todday, but you wouldn’t know it from the actions of Captain Wagget (Eddie Izzard), an English commander rigidly leading a ragtag unit of islanders just in case Hitler should attack. The town has gone dry, with no alcohol deliveries expected because of the war, putting a damper on everything, including celebrations; most importantly, postmaster Joseph Macroon (Gregor Fisher), a leader on the island, won’t allow his daughters, Catriona (Ellie Kendrick) and Peggy (Naomi Battrick), to marry their intendeds, schoolteacher George Campbell (Kevin Guthrie) and Sergeant Odd (Sean Biggerstaff), respectively, until they can have the proper party, with plenty of booze. George also faces the wrath of his Bible-thumping mother (Ann Louise Ross), who forbids him from marrying Peggy. In desperate need of drink, the town gets excited when a cargo ship runs aground just off the island, transporting tens of thousands of export-only alcohol for a cabinet minister. While Captain Waggett seeks to protect the bounty from thieves — his colleagues and neighbors — a group of thirsty islanders, including Joseph, George, Odd, Sammy (Iain Robertson), the Biffer (Antony Strachan), Old Roddy (Sean Scanlan), and Angus (Brian Pettifer), devise a plan to obtain the contraband whisky, right under Waggett’s nose.
Whisky Galore! is a remake of Alexander Mackendrick’s classic 1949 Ealing comedy — his debut, which was reedited by Charles Crichton when the producer was not satisfied with the original cut. The film was based on Sir Compton Mackenzie’s novel, inspired by real events in which the S.S. Politician, a British cargo ship carrying tens of thousands of cases of export-only whisky, crashed in the Outer Hebrides in 1941. (Coincidentally, Mackendrick gave Mackinnon a prize for his graduation film back in 1986.) Written by Peter MacDougall and photographed by Nigel Willoughby, the film has a lot of Scottish color, and not just the beautiful amber of whisky, even if production designer Andy Harris was heavily influenced by the work of American painter Andrew Wyeth. Izzard turns Waggett into a pathetic but determined soldier, egged on by his prudish wife, Dolly (Fenella Woolgar), while Fisher makes gentle widower Macroon the emotional center of the film. And keep a lookout for the late Tim Pigott-Smith (The Jewel in the Crown, King Charles III) as Colonel Woolsey, in one of his last roles. Glaswegian MacKinnon (Hideous Kinky, The Last of the Blond Bombshells) keeps it all from getting too ridiculous, although several plot twists go awry, including one involving Edward, Prince of Wales, and his true love, Wallis Simpson. But no matter; this is a film that goes down fairly smooth, without too much harshness.