Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Emily Watson, Julie Walters, Nicholas Hoult and Miranda Richardson
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: 15
Available 16 October 2006

Swaziland 1969, and the British Ex-Pat community is thrown into turmoil by the impending arrival of Independence signalling the end of their pampered decadent lifestyles. Seen through the eyes of the young Ralph Compton as he comes to terms with his parents messy divorce, after divorce, his liberating relationship with his father's brash American new wife and discovering love for the first time...

Wah-Wah is a semi-autobiographical drama written and directed by Richard E. Grant. And to be perfectly honest, ignoring for a minute that this is his first attempt at writing and directing a movie, this is a fantastic film which looks like it had a much bigger budget than it actually did.

Set during the last gasp of the British Empire in Swaziland, South East Africa, in 1969, the plot focuses on the dysfunctional Compton family whose gradual disintegration mirrors the end of British rule. As an 11 year old, Ralph witnesses his mother's adultery with his father's best friend. His parents divorce and Ralph is sent to boarding school. Harry Compton not only loses his wife and best friend, but also his position as Minister of Education with the coming of Independence, prompting his rapid descent into alcoholism.

Now 14, Ralph returns home to discover that his father has remarried an American ex-air hostess called Ruby whom he has known all of six weeks. As round a peg as you could find in this square holed society, Ruby ridicules the petty snobbery of Colonial life by identifying Colonial-speak as sounding like a load of old "Wah-Wah". Although Ralph is initially wary of Ruby, he bonds with her as his father's drinking escalates dangerously out of control. Meanwhile, the community frenziedly prepares an amateur production of Camelot to impress Princess Margaret who is visiting to preside over Independence. Ralph gets cast, falls in love and discovers a way to escape his hellish home life.

The underlying theme is love - love lost, regained, unrequited, forgotten, longed for, and discovered. I'm not sure which movie the reviewer for the Independent saw as they describe the film as "full of humour" on the quote on the front of the DVD box. While it does have its moments, humour is not really on the cards much throughout this film. But then it's the bleak and depressing moments that make this movie tug at the old heart strings so unmercifully.

One thing I want to get off my chest is the totally absurd review DVD we received. The image had a timecode clock obscuring the top portion of the screen and then every five minutes a copyright warning would appear obscuring the best part of the bottom of the screen. I haven't seen anything like this since my days at DreamWatch magazine when VHS video review tapes all seemed to be like this. With a moving film like Wah-Wah a lot of the impact was lost. This was particularly the case in the movie's final touching scene - the moment was totally lost thanks to the copyright warning.

And as for the extras... don't even ask, but for some reason these review DVDs come with no extras at all. So I can't really comment on the extras at all. Apparently if you shell out for the finished item you'll get a Making Of Documentary as well as Interviews with cast and crew featurette.

Lionsgate should seriously reconsider their policy of review discs. If they continue to treat reviewers in this manner how can they expect to get honest reviews that praise their releases? As it is, I've wasted three paragraphs here moaning about it when I could have been praising the movie more.

At the end of the day this is a beautiful, touching and well realised production. There's not a bad actor in sight and whoever was the casting director certainly earned their money for bringing together a great collection of actors.

Once upon a time we British had a profitable film industry. It's good to see that Richard E. Grant not only takes us back to a time when we had an Empire in South Africa, but also makes us realise that we still have some of the best creative talent on the planet... and that's not just a load of Wah-Wah either.

Darren Rea

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