“THE little island of Todday is a completely isolated community,” declares the voiceover at the start of the 1949 Ealing Studios classic Whisky Galore. “100 miles from the mainland, 100 miles from the nearest cinema or dancehall. Oh, but the islanders know how to enjoy themselves. They have all that they need. But in 1943, disaster overwhelmed this little island. Not famine, nor pestilence, nor Hitler’s bombs, or the hordes of an invading army, but something far, far worse: ‘There is no whisky!’ Whisky, Uisge Beatha, in Gaelic they call it, the water of life. And to a true islander, life without it is not worth living.”

Welcome to Todday, or should that be Barra where the 1949 classic, and its more recent remake by Gillies Mackinnon were filmed – not to mention where much of the real-life drama on which Compton Mackenzie’s novel and screenplay were based. For it was near Barra, just off Eriskay that, in 1941, the SS Politician ran aground with its cargo of whisky.

The island is not a bad place to take an imaginary stop-off right in the middle of a global pandemic lockdown. It's a reminder of the many things that make life living. We’ve been told to moderate our alcohol consumption during self isolation – and that’s quite right, but it doesn’t mean that our private quarantine islands have to be entirely dry. Indeed, there’s no better time to take yourself off to Todday, as you embark on a home-based whisky tour through literature, film and the internet, without ever having to leave your own drinks cabinet. A quick dash to the supermarket, however, may be necessary if you are struggling with the fact that, "There is no whisky!"

There’s much to relate to here. On one level it’s film about scarcity, of the sort we have feared in recent months – though thankfully even when the toilet roll shelves were bare, there was still whisky on the supermarket shelves. But it’s also about rebellion and community resourcefulness. It’s about pluckiness, togetherness and support in the face of adversity, all of which we're looking for right now. We could also do with a few laughs to get us through the ongoing lockdown, and Whisky Galore has a knock-out gag in every scene – usually involving something to do with whisky.

What to read

Compton Mackenzie’s novel has to be your first stop. It's a comic masterpiece, a love letter to the islands he was so fond of and the anarchic spirit of their communities. The drama, for instance, begins with the death of Captain Macphee, by all accounts killed off by the sudden lack of whisky. “Well, the shock has killed him,” the Doctor announces. “And I’m not surprised. For the last 15 years to my knowledge he drank his three drams of whisky and three pints of beer every night of his life, and on such a tonic he might have lived to a 100. He’s had not a drop of whisky for 12 days, and before that only one dram a night for nearly a month. And now tonight he wasn’t able to get his third pint of beer. Well, it’s killed him ”

What to watch

Don’t be tempted to skip the original and go straight to Gillies Mackinnon’s recent version. It’s a pale shadow of Alexander Mackendrick’s black-and-white comedy. Film critic Andrew Pulver described the remake as "twee, comfy-cardigan film-making" – which is not to say many of us aren’t craving a comfy cardigan in these strange and difficult days. But, as fellow critic Mark Kermode put it, Mackinnon's film "served only to remind us just how much we preferred the original Whisky Galore”. So go for the real deal, aged in celluloid over 70 years. You can even catch it on the BBC right now, as part of a series of comforting and nostalgic old flicks to keep our spirits up through the trials of lockdown.

What to look at online

Barra is now famed for having one of the most scenic airfields in the world – a long strip of beach at Traigh Mhòr. You can watch the sporadic action on it, via webcam at the Barra airport website, though, in these lockdown days you might have to wait a while for a plane to land. Instead, if you really want some action, instead, you could surf YouTube for short films of planes landing on the beautiful Barra airfield – including one from the cockpit by Sam Chui.

Discover the true story

There’s a good run-down of the original story of the SS Politician, which foundered on the sandbanks at Roshnish point, at scotchwhisky.com “The ship’s fuel tanks were ruptured," it describes, "and its engines gave up minutes later, leaving the crew to await rescue – and salvage of their cargo. To the locals, beset by the privations of war and rationing, this was too good an opportunity to miss. Unofficial local ‘salvage parties’ began to form, with the men even donning their wives’ old dresses to prevent their own clothes becoming stained by incriminating ship’s oil.”

What to drink

Ballantine’s if you can get hold of it. Though most of the whisky in the cargo of the SS Politician was from long-gone James Martin’s of Leith, there were some of this blend, bottled in Dumbarton. But, to be honest, in the spirit of Todday, you could have a dram of anything so long as it’s whisky.

What to sing

Brochan lom, tana lom, brochan lom na sùghain, Or in other words the puirt a beul (mouth music) song that's the joy of the chief whisky drinking scene in the 1949 movie. If a nip of that only makes you want to down more more puirt a beul, try Shooglenifty’s The Untied Knot.

What if you want more whisky

So Todday wasn’t enough. What you really want is a whisky tour. Well there is plenty out there. You can take an online trip into the past for archive footage at britishpathe.com. Some of Scotland’s distilleries even offer an online tour, for instance Laphroaig’s 306 Tour, a short film that takes you through sweeping photography across the landscape of Islay and through the distillery, to end with the final line, “We hope you enjoyed your first visit to Laphroaig.”

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