Lowri Izzard

Brian & Charles

08/07/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Like a grimy Wallace (pal of Gromit), Brian is an inventor. Unlike his plasticine doppelganger, Brian (David Earl) rarely enjoys success. His flying clock erupts in flames while still firmly earth-bound, and his plunger-water-bottle is an exercise in unhygienic futility. Nevertheless, he persists. Before long, he’s embarking on his most ambitious project to date, a robot – improbably fashioned from a discarded mannequin head, a washing machine and a rubber glove. All it takes is a stormy night on the Welsh hills, and Brian-Wallace-Frankenstein finds himself in possession of a fully-functioning AI called Charles (Chris Hayward).

Earl (who, with Hayward, co-wrote the film) imbues Brian with a likeable vulnerability. He’s a lonely, sweet-natured man, who’d be content with his ramshackle life – cabbage-heavy diet and all – if only he had someone to share it with. The friendship Charles provides bolsters Brian’s confidence, and soon he’s mustered up the courage to ask his friend, Hazel (Louise Brealey), to join him and Charles on a day out. A gentle, touching romance ensues.

Of course, it’s not all plain sailing. Not only does Brian have to deal with Charles’ (very funny) adolescent mood swings, he’s also the target of local bully, Eddie (Jamie Michie), and his terrifying teenage daughters, Katrina and Suki (Lowri and Mari Izzard). Can he protect his invention from their cruelty?

There’s a lot to like about this film, not least its warm heart and quirky humour. Directed by Jim Archer, there are many laugh-out-loud moments, and the characters are convincingly drawn. The Welsh landscape is another joy: Snowdonia national park looks glorious, even under heavy cloud, and Llyn Gwynant is breathtakingly beautiful.

But there are issues. My main bugbear is with the accents and their subtext. Apart from a few minor roles, the cast comprises essentially three goodies (Brian, Charles and Hazel) and four baddies (Eddie, Katrina, Suki and Nina Sosanya’s Pam). While the baddies all speak with pronounced Welsh accents, the goodies, for no discernible reason, have English ones. For Charles, this might seem fair enough: he is a robot, after all. But Hazel lives with her mother, Winnie (Lynn Hunter), who has a Welsh accent, and Brian makes reference to his father teaching him to build the fences around his cottage when he was young; they’re both local through and through, and there’s no mention of either of them ever having lived elsewhere. Did no one think about the connotations here?

There are plot holes too. It’s a fun film to watch, but it doesn’t bear much scrutiny. I won’t say too much for fear of spoilers, but where does the money come for from Brian’s final gesture, for example? And why has Hazel – who’s kept horribly busy by Winnie – suddenly got so much free time? More importantly, Brian & Charles at first appears to be a fly-on-the-wall documentary, with Brian directly addressing the camera, and even receiving spoken replies from the film-maker. As the story progresses, this device peters out, and a more straightforward narrative form is deployed. This feels awkward and unresolved.

I’m a little saddened by Brian & Charles, because it would only take a few tweaks to make it utterly loveable.

3.4 stars

Susan Singfield