Brian and Charles
Adapted from the award-winning short of the same name, Brian and Charles is the brainchild of director Jim Archer, David Earl and Chris Hayward, who both write and star as Brian and Charles respectively, and packs a surprisingly dense yet well-balanced conglomerate of ideas into its shell of palatable quirk.
Shot in mockumentary style – a stock technique of 21st-century comedy – the story uses the isolation of Earl’s Brian, an idiosyncratic inventor in a rural Welsh village, as its narrative springboard and emotional anchor. The film opens with Brian showing the fake documentary crew around his cottage filled with clutter and useless or creaky creations, a sequence in which Earl does a brilliant job of creating a sympathetic portrait of a rather sad yet tenaciously positive character, while set design and use of props pulls you into the film’s grounded take on the trope of eccentric inventor. Channelling Wallace of Wallace and Gromit in his typically British, futile determination to change the world with his inventions, Brian differs from the beloved character in the loneliness of his existence, playing darts against himself in the absence of a companion, and being limited to painfully awkward interactions with villager Hazel (Louise Brealey).
That is until he finds a mannequin’s head in a scrap heap, setting off 72 hours of designing and engineering a robot with a striking resemblance to Jim Broadbent and a washing machine for a torso. While at first it appears that the robot will be another failed invention, Brian returns home one evening during a thunderstorm to find the robot alive and moving, caught in the act of stealing a cabbage from the yard in a disarmingly effective horror-inflected sequence in which quaint British humour is meshed with the sense of the uncanny which goes hand in hand with artificial intelligence. Settling on the name of Charles Petrescu, which Brian continually repeats in affirmation of his burgeoning consciousness, Brian forms a close bond with Charles somewhere between friends, father and son and dog and owner.
The film is an offbeat and charming buddy comedy, with genuine laughs and a substantial dose of lump-in-the-throat poignancy. Charles’s seven-foot plus, imposing stature gives him the stamp of a lovable giant, while his middle-upper class enunciation juxtaposes amusingly with his angsty teenage disposition. Earl’s performance is also brilliantly effective in grounding the potentially unwieldy, madcap sensibility of the film into something more affecting, while Hayward delivers a physical performance teetering perfectly on the pivot between robotic and human. The performances complement their script, which is concerned with ideas of loneliness, parent/child relationships and village dynamics, as much as it is with its picturesque oddities, which never overwhelm and are always secondary to the central relationship.
It is true that you can feel the fibres of the story’s origins as a short film being stretched to meet its 90-minute running time in some instances, but that is a footnote which makes the charm of Brian and Charles no more resistible.
Brian and Charles is released nationwide on 8th July 2022.
For further information about Sundance London 2022 visit here.
Read more reviews from the festival here.
Watch the trailer for Brian and Charles here: