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BRIAN AND CHARLES ****

 

Directed by Jim Archer.
Starring David Earl, Chris Hayward, Louise Brealey.
Science-Fiction, UK, 90 minutes, certificate PG.

 

Released in cinemas in the UK by Universal 8th July.

 

There is a bold simplicity that runs through BRIAN AND CHARLES that immediately and effortlessly suspends the viewers disbelief. With nothing more than a mannequin’s head found in a fly tip, a washing machine, stretched out clothes and some cogs and wires the solitary Brian builds a fully operational, walking, talking robot who names himself Charles Petrescu. Considerably more successful and useful than Brian’s other inventions, including his flying cuckoo clock and egg belt, Charles provides some much-needed companionship to Brian’s lonely life in the remote Welsh countryside. What follows is a charming film detailing the tender relationship between two offbeat personalities that has much to say about friendship as well as being one of the best feelgood comedies in ages.

 

The film’s story is a simple one. Told in a mockumentary style we witness Brian’s delight in his invention only for it to be undermined by Charles quickly formed independent streak, which quickly comes into focus after the robot catches a glimpse of grass skirt wearing dancers in Honolulu on a holiday show on TV, creating a newfound need to explore the world around him, especially Hawaii. Brian’s reluctance to let him out, or even show him off, comes in part from a fear of a neighbouring clan of thieving bullies and an overall sense of a hermetic lifestyle that is alluded to throughout the film. With the help of the shy Hazel, Brian finds his life opening in even more ways but conflict with his own creation threatens seems to be on the horizon.

 

Expanded on the short film from 2017, director Jim Archer reunites with writers David Earl, familiar from his roles in Ricky Gervais’ comedies After Life and Derek, and Chris Hayward, who also repeat their titular roles here. It is a premise that has provided the basis for many a lightweight comedy over the decades but there is a melancholy air that is apparent from the very beginning that provides an affecting and emotional core for its main human character. Describing himself as “very alone”, Brian’s need to essentially build a friend for himself is an easily recognisable one mainly due to Earl’s sympathetic performance that manages to avoid any trace of audience manipulation or sentimentality.  That he is so well complimented by a dummy’s head stuck on top of a bulky washing machine covered by a stretched-out cardigan that communicates with a flat, emotionless tone, delivered by Hayward through voice simulation software, is testament to the duo’s skill as writers and performers and the care that they have taken with their characters.

 

The brief ninety-minute running time just about covers the brief narrative and plot but in the end that hardly matters. This is mainly due to Earl and Hayward’s expertly realised characters and their all too believable relationship, despite its lo-fi sci-fi trappings. Created years ago, and honed onstage in stand-up comedy onstage, this double act have come up with one of the most touching portrayals of a friendship seen on screen in some time. Whether delighting in each other dancing, playing swords or a fickle argument, one involving Charles insistence to go to town to get some bubble gum that results in the misshapen robot acting like a sulky teen, their relationship is a deadpan delight that will mark them out as a cult favourite double act.

 

Lovingly portrayed and beautifully filmed BRIAN AND CHARLES is one of those counter programming slices of cinema that offers a perfect alternative to the summer blockbuster season with its simple tale and genuine inventiveness. Often laugh out loud funny it also delivers as an understated study of the need for friendship that stays with the viewer long after watching.

 

Iain MacLeod.

 

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