U.K. | 99 MINUTES | English |
The "pip-pip" façade of late-colonial British society receives a gentle pricking in actor Richard E. Grant's directorial debut. Partially based on Grant's own experiences growing up in South Africa, Wah-Wah blends together coming-of-age melodrama and incisive character studies reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh. The plot unfolds against the backdrop of the hand over of power in Swaziland, circa 1969. The sun has pretty much set on decades of British imperial rule, and on the marriage of imperial functionary Harry Compton (Gabriel Byrne) and his adulterous wife Lauren (Miranda Richardson). Eleven-year-old Ralph (played effectively by Zach Fox and as a teenager by Nicholas Hoult) spies his mother doing the deed and becomes our eyes and ears for all that follows-including his father's descent into alcoholic melancholy and his remarriage to Ruby, a sassy American flight hostess (Emily Watson). Ruby and Ralph bond as he comes to understand that she too is an outsider in this hypocritical, class-obsessed society. (Interestingly enough, the film's title refers not to the British slang term "wah-wah," meaning headache, but to Ruby's dismissal of upper-crust colonial phraseology as a load of old "wah-wah.") Grant coaxes understated performances from his ensemble, while keeping his focus firmly fixed on the human drama, relegating politics to the background. There are some wonderful period songs, and the action builds to a surprisingly moving climax. This is a warm, humane film obviously close to its maker's heart-and all the more effective because of it.