It’s hard to imagine that we’ll see a sweeter, more uplifting, more poignant and more downright hilarious film than Brian and Charles this year. The film – the work of David Earl (best known for playing grimy sleazeball characters in Ricky Gervais’ Derek and After Life) and Chris Hayward – started life as a short film in 2017 (freely available on YouTube) before being developed into a feature directed by Jim Archer. If you’re looking for something to lift your sagging spirits as we stumble through the chaos of 2022 then we can guarantee that if 90 minutes in the company of Brian and Charles doesn’t do the trick then nothing will.
Brian Gittins is a lonely and eccentric inventor living in a rambling old farmhouse in rural North Wales. His unlikely inventions include an egg belt and trawler shoes. Scavenging through some scrap one day, he finds an old mannequin head and decides to fulfil his life’s ambition by building a robot. The resulting monstrosity boasts an old washing machine for a body with one of Brian’s old shirts stretched across it. It stubbornly refuses to come to life. One night, during a thunderstorm, Brian finds the machine wandering around outside his workshop. It’s possessed of a rudimentary artificial intelligence and, talking in clipped, robotic tones, names itself Charles Petrusco and the two begin an unlikely but utterly charming father/son relationship as Brian educates Charles in the world and all its marvels. But Charles starts to grow into a petulant, needy teenager and even as Brian embarks on a sweet relationship with shy local girl Hazel (Louise Brealey) Charles attracts the attention of local bully Eddie (Jamie Michie) and his trouble-making family.
Brian and Charles is absolutely unique. Its humour is resolutely British, the story of two entirely different people/beings, locked together and learning to live with and adapt to one another. Charles (voiced by Hayward) is the hilarious, naïve child who asks questions such as “Can birds do what they like?” and Earl is perfect as the always cheery but ultimately rather sad outsider Brian who really just wants to be left alone to live the life he’s chosen and yet, we suspect, secretly craves something more. Bleak, slate grey North Wales locations add to the film’s strange sense of dislocation but, at the end of the day, Brian and Charles is at times absolutely side-splittingly hilarious, a real comedy of manners, and yet also warm, touching, and affecting. The new subplot involving Eddie and his plans to use Charles as bonfire fodder adds a little jeopardy to the proceedings but this is low-stakes stuff that serves to give Brian the opportunity to step up to the plate and for us to care about Charles more than we already do. Quirky, silly, utterly ridiculous but possessing real heart, Brian and Charles is proof that sometimes junk really can be turned into pure gold.
Brian and Charles is in selected UK cinemas now