I suppose I need to stop banging on about being in lockdown but well we are in lockdown and it is all consuming. It has however led to a new feature and this week is going to be film week. Three articles out this week and all three will be reviews of fictional films. The first of which is the first ever (maybe) whisky themed film. The 1949 “Whisky Galore!”
Our tale is from a book of the same name written in 1947 which was loosely based on a real event from 1941. That novel was by Sir Compton MacKenzie and is still in print which of course is now slowly coming via Amazon to compare it against.
The film is set on a fictional Island in the Outer Hebrides but was filmed entirely in Barra. The opening shots of the film are all outside shots of an Island just after the war. In this respect it is a really authentic and interesting film. These locations are really true to the way our Scottish Islands looked in the 1940’s.
Back to the plot though the poor Island is dry of whisky and the Islanders are depressed as a result. The war hasn’t really hit on the people of the island particularly until the whisky has run out and they now spend their days checking on the pier for any news of whisky arriving on the delivery ships.
The island does however have a Home Guard led by an Englishman called Captain Waggett. He is quite a similar character to Dad’s Army’s Captain Manwaring and played brilliantly by Basil Radford. The second central character is the Postmaster and widower Joseph Macroon who has two daughters who want to marry their soul mates. One a returning soldier who will help train the Home Guard but is 16 years older than his would be bride. The other is a mummy’s boy and the islands teacher who is bullied by his mother even now has a 20 odd year old man.
All of these threads combine when a ship bound for America laden with 50,000 cases of whisky runs aground just off the coast of the Island. The men want to get the whisky and the Home Guard captain feels it is his duty to stop the looting and our comedy comes from the ways in which the whisky is stolen and the attempts of Waggett to find the looted items.
All the actors in the film is simply excellent and true experts of their craft. Each individual is able to show so much emotion and meaning from their body language and expressions. Indeed a lot of the more adult themes like death, love and sex are all implied and subtly referenced through these devices. Which makes it a sanitized version of what island life would be like in Scotland but adorable all the same.
When the whisky is found and eventually get it off the ship (having to have waited until the Sabbath is over) the actual bottles of whisky are really fascinating. The bottles used as empties from the mainland and as a result are how Haig, Johnnie Walker and the other brands looked in the late 1940’s so from that perspective it is quite an historically significant film for the whisky lover looking to widen their knowledge.
In the 80 minutes of film there is lot of great footage and I enjoyed it a lot with a little blended whisky in the traditional style. You know just to add to the experience 🙂 . In terms of the film itself its backstory is quite interesting. The original cut did not go down well with Ealing Studios management and additional footage had to be shot. Even though the budget was over by £20,000 and the director though the film was nothing more than amateurish and second rate. The film eventually did well after the re-edit and being released to cinema’s without any promotion still sold tickets well. For more information on the story behind the filming check out Wikipedia.
The closing scene focuses on Sergeant Odd and his now wife Peggy holding hands on the beach and looking ever so happy. The narrator then gives us quite the prophecy:
Whisky Galore! Even after our private store was exhausted there were stocks of legitimate whisky but the price went up and then it went up again until nobody on Toddy could afford even a dram.
So they all lived unhappily ever after.
Oh except Sergeant Odd and Miss Peggy who weren’t whisky drinkers.
I hope Edrington are listening.
That last part was plumbed into the end of the film to get it distributed in America. They had to show that alcohol is nasty old stuff after all which does bring unhappiness. It was essentially the 1940’s version of “Drink Responsibly”