Director – Jim Archer – 2022 – UK – Cert. PG – 91m
In rural Wales, an eccentric inventor builds a robot companion out of odds and ends, contends with the local bully and finds love – out in cinemas on Friday, July 8th, previews from Wednesday, July 6th
Welcome to the reclusive world of Brian (David Earl), an inventor in rural Wales who builds things in his shed. Scouring the area for piles of discarded junk, he repurposes bits and pieces in such objects as a flying cuckoo clock – if you’re wondering what the time is, you just look up in the sky and it tells you – which has wings, is powered by a bicycle and looks like it’ll never actually fly. June (Cara Chase), the friendly owner of the local store, is perturbed to see him trailing nets behind shoes.
Finding a mannequin head, he combines it with a washing machine for a body to create an ungainly, seven foot tall robot, Charles (Chris Hayward). Charles has an insatiable habit to finding out things about the world around him, and would ideally like to go travelling. Brian doesn’t think this is a good idea because the world isn’t a nice place. Specifically, local farmer Eddie (Jamie Michie), egged on by his wife Pam (Nina Sosanya) and two daughters Katrina and Suki (Lowri and Mari Izzard), is forever trying to take advantage of people and Brian has had problems with the family in the past.
Eddie is a bully who usually gets his way and is currently organising his latest community bonfire. Sure enough, Brian’s worst fears are realised when Charles goes missing. Brian goes over to Eddie’s farm to confront him only to learn that Eddie intends to burn Charles on his bonfire.
Meanwhile, Brian has struck up a tentative relationship with Hazel (Louise Brealey), who is as much of a recluse as he is. She lives at home (which we never see) with her parents, but now that she’s taking an interest in Brian, he feels the need to demonstrate his manhood by standing up to Eddie. Will he be able to do so, rescue Charles, see off Eddie and impress Hazel?
The characters of Brian and Charles grew out of radio show and stand-up comedy where David Earl initially developed the character of Brian and later that of Charles, who was built by Hayward. The duo subsequently wrote a script for a short (12m, 2017) and pulled in director Archer. After seeing this feature, I was curious to see the short and get some idea of where the feature had come from. You can view it here. The short is darker in that Brian becomes irritated by Charles’ childlike ways, drives him to the middle of nowhere and abandons him whereas in the feature, the pair remain firm friends with no hint of animosity on Brian’s part.
The feature focuses instead on friendship, with the relationship between Brian and his robot creation at the centre of the film. David Earl’s enthusiastic portrayal will win you over, although there are times when he seems to be talking a bit too much, rambling on, which means that the feature can sometimes seem stretched. The filmmakers fortunately have had the good sense to keep it to 91 minutes, but even so it feels thin in places.
The beautifully handled, blossoming romance between Hazel and Brian is very sweet and touching. The inventions-obsessed Brian seems almost oblivious to Hazel’s interest, and the moment when she suddenly kisses him which he obviously isn’t expecting is quite wonderful and strangely moving, possessed as it is of a winsome naivety. A likeable community feel can be observed in Brian’s interactions with local residents.
When the film moves on the the subject of the bully Eddie and family, the script shifts the feel to that of a hard-nosed drama with no-nonsense characters who sit ill at ease with the more whimsical rest of the film, almost as if they’d wandered in from another film entirely, a much less quirky and more mainstream offering that lacks the standout qualities that render other elements in the film so special and lend it such a unique appeal. In the end, however, Brian’s pluck encouraged by Hazel pulls the proceedings back on track for a satisfying finale.
It’s the sort of film where part of you thinks the script could have had more work and been better thought through, while another part thinks that that approach might have resulted in something far more slick lacking the soul the current film clearly has at its centre. There’s something deeply attractive about the ordinariness of Brian, Hazel and Charles, with the latter’s obsessive consumption of cabbages likely to endear him to audiences (in the earlier short, it’s the very thing that turns Brian against him).
Possibly because rural Wales is a place of people living alone at some distance from one another, and the community of the film (Eddie notwithstanding) are ordinary, honest folk without any suggestion of the class difference found in so many British films, there are echoes of a couple of low budget, antipodean movies – the quirky, New Zealand, romantic comedy Eagle Vs. Shark (Taika Waititi, 2007) and the put upon inventor fable Malcolm (Nadia Tass, David Parker, 1986). Brian And Charles is similarly quirky and equally original. It’s a bit hit and miss, but the bits that work work very well indeed. The characters of Brian, Charles and Hazel are as extraordinary as they are mundane, if that makes sense; hopefully in due course we’ll hear more from the team of Earl, Hayward and Archer whose highly creative collaboration has resulted in their journey to the big screen.
Brian And Charles is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, July 8th with previews from Wednesday, July 6th.