Whisky Galore! (film)

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Whisky Galore!
Whisky galore uk dvd cover.jpg
DVD cover
Directed by Alexander Mackendrick
Produced by Michael Balcon
Written by Compton MacKenzie (also novel)
Angus MacPhail
Starring Basil Radford
Bruce Seton
Joan Greenwood
Gordon Jackson
Music by Ernest Irving
Cinematography Gerald Gibbs
Edited by Joseph Sterling
Distributed by GFD (UK)
Release dates
  • 16 June 1949 (1949-06-16) (UK)
Running time
82 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Whisky Galore! (released in the US as Tight Little Island) is a 1949 Ealing comedy film from the novel Whisky Galore by Compton MacKenzie. Both the film and the novel are based on the real-life 1941 shipwreck of the S.S. Politician near the island of Eriskay [1] and the unauthorised taking of its cargo of whisky. The plot deals with the attempts of Scottish islanders to take advantage of an unexpected windfall, despite opposition from British authorities. It starred Basil Radford, Bruce Seton, Joan Greenwood and Gordon Jackson. This was the first film directed by Alexander Mackendrick.

Mackenzie also wrote a sequel, Rockets Galore!, which was filmed by the Rank Organisation in 1957. An attempt was made to produce a remake of the film between 2004 and 2006.[2][3] In August 2015, filming of the remake was taking place on Ardeer beach with Eddie Izzard in the role of Captain Waggett.[4]


The inhabitants of the isolated Scottish island of Todday in the Outer Hebrides are largely unaffected by wartime rationing, until the supply of whisky runs out in 1943. Then gloom descends on the disconsolate natives.

In the midst of this catastrophe, English Sergeant Odd (Bruce Seton) returns on leave to court Peggy (Joan Greenwood), daughter of storekeeper Joseph Macroon (Wylie Watson). Meanwhile, Macroon's other daughter, Catriona (Gabrielle Blunt), has just got engaged to meek schoolteacher George Campbell (Gordon Jackson), though his stern, domineering mother (Jean Cadell) refuses to give her approval.

Things take an unexpected turn for the better when the freighter S.S. Cabinet Minister runs aground in heavy fog late one night and begins to sink. The Biffer (Morland Graham) and Sammy MacCodrun (John Gregson) row out to investigate and are ecstatic to learn from its departing crew that the cargo consists of 50,000 cases of whisky.

Captain Paul Waggett (Basil Radford), the stuffy English commander of the local Home Guard, orders Odd to guard the cargo, but Macroon casually remarks that, by longstanding custom, a man cannot marry without hosting a party in which whisky must be served. Taking the hint, the sergeant allows himself to be "overpowered", and the locals manage to offload many cases before the ship goes down. MacCodrun persuades Campbell to participate, though he had been sent to his room by his mother for a prior transgression. This proves fortunate, as Campbell rescues the Biffer when he is trapped in the sinking freighter. The whisky also fortifies teetotaller Campbell's courage enough so he can stand up to his mother regarding Catriona.

A battle of wits ensues between Waggett, who wants to confiscate the salvaged cargo, and the wily islanders. Waggett brings in Macroon's old government nemesis, Mr. Farquharson (Henry Mollison), and his men to search for the whisky, but the forewarned islanders manage to hide the bottles in various ingenious places, including ammunition cases which Waggett ships off-island. When this is discovered, Waggett is recalled to the mainland to explain himself, leaving the locals triumphant.



The film was shot on the island of Barra in 1948. The summer of 1948 brought heavy rain and gales, and the shoot ran five weeks over its planned 10-week schedule while the budget more than doubled. The first cut of the resulting footage did not please Ealing studio head Michael Balcon, but Charles Crichton stepped in to re-edit it.

Director Mackendrick, who was raised in Glasgow, sympathised with the pompous, high-minded, but spoilsport attempts of Waggett to foil the looting. Mackendrick later said: "I began to realise that the most Scottish character in Whisky Galore! is Waggett the Englishman. He is the only Calvinist, puritan figure – and all the other characters aren't Scots at all: they're Irish!" [5]

Alternative film titles[edit]

In the US, both the novel and the film were called Tight Little Island, as a ban existed at the time on using the names of alcoholic drinks in titles.

In France, the film was retitled Whisky à gogo, which gave its name to the discothèque in Paris of the same name.

Differences from the novel[edit]

The plot underwent some modification and condensation from the novel, with a lot of the background removed; in particular, the two islands were merged into the single island of Todday and some religious issues were left out.


The film was parodied in the TV series The Fast Show as "Heroin Galore". The cargo in this version consists of pure heroin. This was shortly after the Danny Boyle film, Trainspotting, became a major British hit.

A television commercial for Tennent's Lager also parodied the film.[6]



  1. ^ Jonathan Romney, the Independent 24 July 2011
  2. ^ Whisky Galore Film Limited
  3. ^ Remake of Whisky Galore! hits the rocks amid storm over snub to Scots – Scotsman.com News
  4. ^ Daily Mail, August 22 2015
  5. ^ Romney, The Independent on Sunday, 24 July 2011.
  6. ^ [1] so-good-that-someone-had-to-ban-them. The Spectator 18 June 2008


  • The Great British Films, pp 128–30, Jerry Vermilye, 1978, Citadel Press, ISBN 0-8065-0661-X

External links[edit]