Dir/scr: Richard E Grant.UK-Fr-S Afr. 2005. 97mins
Add the name of Richard EGrant to the roster of actors who have made a successful transition to thedirector's chair. His feature debut Wah-Wah is an affectionate, keenly-observedportrait of a family's life set against the dying days of the British Empire.Working from autobiographical material, Grant deftly avoids the pitfalls ofeasy nostalgia or maudlinity to create a film rich in incident and characterand ably performed by a fine ensemble cast.
Lacking obvious marketinghooks, the quality of the piece will need to speak for itself but criticalsupport should help it to reach the same kind of audience that embraced JimSheridan's family tale In America and appreciates handsomely crafted,hearftelt human drama.
Born and raised inSwaziland, Grant sets his story there in 1969 when the British set stillpresided over one of the last outposts of Empire. It is a society where thestiff upper lip traditions of cricket matches and country club civility concealseething snobbery, drunken disappointment and casual adultery.
The young Ralph becomescaught in the crossfire of his parents unhappiness when his mother Lauren(Richardson) leaves his father Harry (Byrne) for another man. Ralph isimmediately dispatched to boarding school and returns two years later (nowplayed by Nicholas Hoult) to discover that his father has married Ruby(Watson), a brash, warm-hearted American who cheerfully flies in the face ofconvention.
In its early stages Wah-Wahseems to have strayed into Graham Greene territory as Harry turns to drink andRalph is left on the sidelines to witness the guilt and betrayal that have tornhis parents apart.
It blossoms into a muchwarmer and more appealing piece as Grant reveals more about the characters andthe community through various incidents as Ralph and a friend sneak into ascreening of A Clockwork Orange, the mother returns, demanding a secondchance and the whole community becomes involved in staging a production of Camelot in front of visiting royalty.
Grant displays a generositytowards his characters that is almost reminiscent of Renoir in the way heinsists that everyone has their reasons; their embarrassing flaws and shininghours. Even the selfish mother is never turned into a simple villain.
Confidently handling theshift in gears from social satire to throat-catching melodrama, Grant maintainsan assured touch throughout. Wah-Wah develops into a touching,satisfying tale of the sorrows and joys encountered by Ralph as he movestowards maturity and a greater understanding of the world.
Grant also proves himself anable director of actors securing a whole clutch of performances that may flirtwith upper crust caricature but always remain true and touching.
Byrne responds to his mostchallenging assignment in recent memory, bringing a hint of a Eugene O'Neillcharacter to a fond, loving father whose best intentions are constantly undoneby his enslavement to drink.
Julie Walters (Aunt Gwen),Celia Imrie (Lady H) and MirandaRichardson are all renowned for creating a multi-dimensional character from amodest amount of screen time and don't fail on this occasion.
Wah Film Productions
Marie Castille Mention-Scharr