One of the big surprises to come out of Sundance: London Festival this year was Brian and Charles which won the Audience Award. The film follows Brian Gittins (David Earl), a middle-aged inventor who lives by himself in a rural Welsh village. When he comes across a mannequin head in a pile of rubbish, he is immediately inspired and creates a robot that has a washing machine for a body. One stormy night, the robot comes alive and is given the name Charles Petrescu (Chris Hayward) and the film chronicles their adventures with all their ups and downs, especially as Brian grows close to Hazel (Louise Brealey), a woman who lives in the village with her mum.
The film is directed by Jim Archer from a script written by the film’s stars, David Earl and Chris Hayward. What works so well is how coherent and well-matched the directing style is with the writing. The backdrop of rural Wales works beautifully with the whimsy and magic of the script, while also maintaining a minimalism that truly allows the characters to shine. Brian and Charles is a film that wears its heart on its sleeve and puts its characters right in the centre of the plot, meaning that there is no need for bells and whistles and elaborate set pieces. The stripped-back nature of the filmmaking style goes hand-in-hand with the simplicity of the plot. The film is a mockumentary which is highly evident in the film’s opening scenes as Brian is lonely and only has the crew to talk to, but as the film progresses and he finds friendship in Charles and a blossoming relationship with Hazel, he engages with the crew less and less, becoming less concerned with how he is perceived on camera.
David Earl stars as Brian, the lovable and lonely inventor who finds that making a robot gives him a new found confidence and a fresh perspective on life. Earl’s performance is sweet as we see Brian grow in confidence throughout the film as he learns to stand up to a family that thrives on bullying the locals, including Brian himself. The scene in which Charles has been kidnapped and Brian doesn’t have the confidence to take him back when he has the chance is heartbreaking as we really feel the character’s predicament and pain in the situation.
Playing Charles is Chris Hayward who dons a box and mannequin head with style. What makes Hayward’s performance so effective is that he successfully manages to get the audience to care for Charles from the offset. Charles is eager to explore the world and feels trapped by Brian who forbids him from venturing outside without permission. It seems impossible that a robot would be able to feel emotion or have dreams, but Charles does and we see his attitude change as he begins to rebel against Brian.
In support, Louise Brealey plays Hazel, a shy and nervous woman who lives in the village with her mum and parrot. Just like Brian, Hazel is also incredibly awkward and afraid to go after what she wants. When Charles is introduced on the scene, he helps Brian and Hazel to push through their awkwardness and explore the potential for a relationship. Hazel proves to be a strong ally for Brian and Charles, doing everything she can to save the latter when he is kidnapped. Brealey is a great onscreen partner with Earl as they are able to bounce of the awkward humour successfully.
The score was composed by Daniel Pemberton, who continues to showcase his ability to adapt to all sorts of genres. His score feeds into the whimsy in the story with the opening track, “Wales, Land of Wonder” setting up the film’s laid-back and minimalism. However, this is also contrasted with robotic sounds such as the track “Crossed Wires” which exaggerates the growing tension between Brian and Charles as the latter is desperate to leave and go on his own adventure while Brian refuses to let this happen. What makes Pemberton one of the best British film composers working today is his ability to bring forth the characters’ emotions in his tracks and allowing the music to compliment those feelings and bring those feelings to the surface.
Brian and Charles has proven to be one of the best feel-good films of the year. It’s a film grounded in minimalism that doesn’t need all the bells and whistles to convey its message. Just like the gorgeous natural Welsh landscape that surrounds the village, Brian and Charles is an emotional and funny yet sincere tale about friendship and coping with loneliness. While it is a film that is simple in its storyline and execution, the way it explores themes of loneliness, relationships and belonging is incredibly rich and will leave you with a smile on your face long after the credits roll.
What did you think of Brian and Charles? Let me know in the comments below!
Brian and Charles is available to watch in cinemas now!