Dir. Richard E Grant, 2005, UK/France/South Africa, 100 mins
Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Miranda Richardson, Emily Watson, Nicholas Hoult
Review by Carol Allen
Grant's directing debut is a wryly affectionate, fictionalised account of his dysfunctional childhood in Swaziland, South East Africa, during the last gasping days of British colonialism. Grant's alter ego Ralph, through whom we view the disintegration of his family reflecting the disintegration of British rule, is played as a nine-year-old by Zachary Fox, and as a teenager by Nicholas Hoult. After his mother Lauren (Richardson) runs off with her husband's best friend, and Harry, his father, loses his job in the Ministry of Education due to the onrush of Swaziland's independence, Harry takes to the bottle and Ralph is packed off to boarding school. When he returns as a teenager, he discovers he has a stepmother, American former air hostess Ruby (Watson), a colourful, frank-talking woman, whose contemptuous phrase for the pretentious Colonial-speak as "all wah-wah" gives the film its title. Suspicious of her at first, Ralph comes to like and trust Ruby, though
the frequent reappearances of his mother tend to confuse matters.
The story-telling technique is sometimes a bit bumpy, and it's not always easy to place who some of the supporting characters are and what their relationship is to their society, but it's a very sincere and likeable film with some telling comic touches, particularly in its observation of the petty snobberies of colonial life. Celia Imrie shines in this area as a magnificently outrageous old trout, who has to come to terms with sharing the stage with a black actor in an amateur production of
Camelot being mounted to celebrate a royal visit from Princess Margaret. There are really good performances from the leading actors as well, particularly Gabriel Byrne, who reconciles the two opposing sides of Harry beautifully, as loving father and sexy lover to Ruby on the one hand and a terrifying, really nasty monster, when the drink takes hold. Emily Watson, who apparently got the part when the big Hollywood stars turned Grant down, really sparkles in her role and Miranda Richardson manages to make a very selfish character understandable and sympathetic. Considering the appalling nature of some of the adults' behaviour, the film takes a very sympathetic and non
Playing the lion's share of Ralph, Nicholas Hoult, who was so good some four years ago in About a Boy, demonstrates that his performance in that was no flash-in-the-pan. Now 16, he has grown into a very good-looking young man, with big blue eyes, full lips and a cute grin. He holds the centre of the story with ease and manages the changes in his relationships with his two mothers very well. Rounding out the cast are Julie Walters, as a motherly neighbour rather over-fond of her gin and tonic, and Felicity Woolgar as a whinnying bright young thing, who turns tactlessness into an art form.
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