banner image

:: Wah Wah

Richard E Grant has spent his lifetime as an actor, telling other people's stories. In this film, his brilliant directorial debut, he finally tells his own story about his childhood in Swaziland and the difficult relationships he had with his parents. Wah Wah is a fictionalised account and the names have been changed, but the tale retains an authentic humanity which is a rare gem in modern cinema.

It is the late 1960s, and British pomposity and colonialism are winding down as Swaziland prepares for independence. For 11-year-old Ralph Compton, it is the time when he witnesses his mother’s adultery with his father’s friend. Both he and his father Harry (Gabriel Byrne) are devastated when she leaves, and Ralph is sent to boarding school. Harry finds himself alone and facing a bleak future. With Independence approaching, his respected position in the government will surely be made obsolete.

When Ralph (Nicholas Hoult) returns several years later, he finds his father a changed man. He has remarried to an American air hostess, Ruby (Emily Watson), who is shunned by polite society and in turn says their hoity-toity colonial ways are “a load of old wah-wah”. Worse than this however, Harry has become an alcoholic. By day he is the same loving father, but at night the drink turns him into a violent and terrifying aggressor. Ralph’s initial hostility towards Ruby eases as they both suffer under Harry’s rage.

Gabriel Byrne gives a wonderful performance in his challenging ‘Jeckyl and Hyde’ role. He balances the character of Harry well, so the audience can share in both Ralph’s sympathy and fear of him. This film also reveals the maturing skill of Nicholas Hoult, who is known from his About a Boy (2002) fame. The teenage actor adds heartfelt emotion to the drama yet is also a source of childlike fun and humour.

Wah-Wah may not be a CGI-packed blockbuster, but it’s not just for film-buffs and lovers of art-house flicks either. This human story is captivating and boasts some of the best developed characters we’ve seen lately. Wah Wah is full of humour and sadness, fear and love, despair and hope. And when it’s all over, the best part is knowing that young Ralph, aka Richard E Grant, grows up alright.