Cast & Crew
Based on a true story. The name of the real ship, that sunk Feb 5 1941 - during WWII - was S/S Politician. Having left Liverpool two days earlier, heading for Jamaica, it sank outside Eriskay, The Outer Hebrides, Scotland, in bad weather, containing 250,000 bottles of whisky. The locals gathered as many bottles as they could, before the proper authorities arrived, and even today, bottles are found in the sand or in the sea every other year.
In 1949, Mackendrick was a production designer for Ealing, but when studio head Michael Balcon opted to make an adaptation of Compton Mackenzie's 1947 novel Whisky Galore, all other directors signed to the studio were occupied with other projects, and Mackendrick was given his great chance to direct. The film would involve the logistically complicated ordeal of shooting on location on the island of Barra, with the island's church hall fashioned into a makeshift studio and numerous prefabricated sets imported from the mainland - quite the challenge for a first-timer to tackle.
The story of Whisky Galore (1949) concerns the consequences of wartime rationing on the Scottish island of Todday, whose inhabitants, having run out of whisky, jump at the opportunity to salvage some when a freighter carrying 50,000 cases washes up on shore. Captain Paul Waggett (Basil Radford), the commander of the island's Home Guard unit, wants the cargo guarded and confiscated. The islanders--a group of colorful characters played by Joan Greenwood, Bruce Seton, Wylie Watson and many other noteworthy actors of British cinema (Alastair Sim was approached for Watson's role, but turned it down to avoid typecasting as "a professional Scotsman")--conspire to outwit him. As the islanders grow more devious in their designs on the whisky, Waggett's stuffiness is pushed to its very limit. The result is a tactful study of an island community that doubles as a taut, ingenious comedy.
Whisky Galore was, by all counts, a tremendous success becoming a box-office hit that was also well-received by critics. This positive reception was quite the surprise to the higher ups at Ealing, who were generally lukewarm regarding the finished film. Alexander Mackendrick in particular was not very happy with the film, predicting that it would be "a dull commentary on island life" and later remarking that "it looks like a home movie." Given his dissatisfaction with the film, it is no surprise that the director would go on to take another stab at a similar subject matter with The Maggie (1954), another film about the clash between an inflexible personality and a close-knit Scottish community.
Whisky Galore was released in close proximity to the Ealing films' Passport to Pimlico and Kind Hearts and Coronets (both 1949), causing the public to forevermore associate the studio with the comedy genre. A sequel, Rockets Galore, would be released in 1958. In 2009, the story was adapted into a musical for the stage, and a remake of the original film was released in 2016. It would seem that Mackendrick's seemingly inauspicious directorial debut has rightfully endured as a classic.
By Stuart Collier
Based on the true story of the sinking of the SS Politician in the Outer Hebrides in 1943.