Whisky Galore! (PG)

Two stars

Dir: Gillies MacKinnon

With: Gregor Fisher, Eddie Izzard, Naomi Battrick

Runtime: 98 minutes

THE Fast Show once recast Compton Mackenzie’s tale of wily Scots stealing whisky from a shipwreck as “Heroin Galore”. Introduced as being “from the makers of Trainspotting”, this version featured islanders sprinkling the hard stuff on their porridge and injecting it while sitting in the pub singing in various Scots accents, all of which were atrocious. It was sacrilege. But it was funny. Ergo it was fine by us.

Gillies MacKinnon’s remake of the Ealing classic commits sacrilege by the simple virtue of being dull. It is quite an achievement to take a tale overflowing with wit and mischief and leave it with all the sprightliness of a statue, but MacKinnon and his cast manage it with a film that is so in awe of the original it dares to do nothing adventurous, merely going through the motions of the story as if that alone will be enough to engage a modern audience.

The trouble starts in the opening moments when the voice of Gregor Fisher, playing Macroon the postmaster, introduces us to the fictional Todday, “a Scottish island at the height of World War II”. The music is plinky plonky jaunty, with some fiddle here and there to signal there may be poignancy and wistfulness ahead. Between this and Fisher, in common with the rest of the cast, going “full islander” on the accent, we suspect that no cliche is going to be left in peace, and so it proves over the course of 98 minutes.

Thus far, the war has had little impact on Todday. That changes when the last drop of whisky falls into the glass and the island becomes dry for the first time in living memory. This is the cause for much mourning among islanders, which MacKinnon, working from a screenplay by Peter McDougall (A Sense of Freedom), plays out at length.

But what ho if there isn’t a terrible storm one night, sending the passing SS Cabinet Minister on to the rocks. Among its cargo are 50,000 cases of whisky and a red box full of Cabinet papers. Before you can say all hands on deck, the islanders are making plans to rescue the whisky from Davy Jones’s locker. First, though, they must wait out the Sabbath (and wait till someone explains what the Sabbath is).

It is a good 40 minutes before the boats set out to liberate the whisky, by which time this not so fantastic voyage already seems to have been going on for hours. By this point, patience has already been stretched thin by the attempts at comedy so obvious one wonders why everyone doesn’t just give in and wear red noses and fright wigs. Among the worst offenders is Eddie Izzard playing Captain Waggett (the role taken by Basil Radford in the 1949 original). One would say Izzard, and the film in general, was aiming for a Dad’s Army level silliness, but that would be an insult to the TV classic.

Scenes meant to show off the delightful eccentricity of the islanders are so painfully contrived the only sound likely to be heard in cinemas is the soft brush of tumbleweed going past. There is comedy value to be had from the varying accents, mind you, the Macroon sisters in particular being a study in differences. Though both are meant to have grown up together, one has a galloping case of the Jean Brodies and the other a bad touch of the Joyce Grenfells.

If the accents are all over the shop, ditto the tone. The scene with henpecked George Campbell (Kevin Guthrie) standing up to his vinegary mother is meant to be rousing, but it is played with so little subtlety all one can taste in the air is anger, which sits uneasily in a film otherwise trying desperately to be jaunty.

Jaunty is a fiendishly difficult trick to pull off, and MacKinnon’s picture doesn’t come within a nautical mile of managing it. There is no mistaking the affection for the original, or the desire to live up to its standards, but that is not enough. The scenery looks lovely, mind.