Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 30 minutes, Director – Jim Archer
Attempting-inventor Brian (David Earl) combats the loneliness of his isolated life in rural Wales by building a robot (Chris Hayward) from the items lying around his house.
You pretty much know the kind of film you’re in for with Brian And Charles as soon as central figure, attempting-inventor, Brian (David Earl) reveals the name of his home as Ploxgreen Cottage. It’s a case further set in stone when he reveals his cabbage bin, a bin exclusively for cabbages, and a fridge full of butter. “Is this interesting?” he asks the camera crew which follows him throughout the mockumentary. The answer should be no, but it’s certainly enjoyable to see a film and character go into such levels of simple quirk from the very start.
Brian’s various inventions almost seem to be uncertain to himself. While some are made to help the local community, just down the road from his isolated cottage in the Welsh countryside, others appear to come to his mind with no real context. Regardless he begins to assemble to bits and pieces lying around his house, and some items from the local area, to scrap together his latest creation. The one with perhaps the most thought is an invention more for himself than anyone else. A robot with a mannequin head and washing machine tummy which mutually agrees to be called Charles Petrescu (co-writer, alongside Earl, Chris Hayward).
There’s a childlike nature to Charles as he first begins to explore the world around him, better known as Brian’s house and garden. It makes for a number of amusing conversations between the pair, particularly when it comes to an argument about whether Charles can sit in the front of the van or not when going out for a trip. There’s plenty of easy-going, whimsical British humour running throughout the film, and it makes for a better connection with the characters. Perhaps more so Brian thanks to the brief time we spend with him before. David Earl gives a great performance as the isolated loner, talking to few people apart from June at the shop (Cara Chase) and equally shy Hazel (Louise Brealey). Yet, Brian appears to be very much content with his life and moves from one thing to another with relative ease, always trying to look on the bright side. When first looking up his robot creation he reflects “building a robot is much like making a cake. You start off wanting a Victoria sponge but end up with a blancmange. That’s alright, because I like blancmanges” truly keeping the highly British quirkiness at heart.
When it comes to the ways in which Brian and Charles eventually interact with the world around them, especially a tense relationship with nearby farm owner Eddie (Jamie Michie), that’s where the more familiar elements of the film come through. Certainly in the second half you can feel the more conventional lines being tread and despite the humour that’s present it’s not quite enough to be distracted from the recognisable nature of such elements. It’s perhaps assisted by the fairly simplistic nature – not necessarily a bad thing – of the largely followed base idea of a man and his self-built robot companion, one which certainly looks different to most other robot companions we may have seen in TV and films over the years.
At 90 minutes the film as a whole is quite short, and certainly knows exactly what it wants to do or where to go. It’s based on an 12 minute 2017 short film of the same name. And while not overly outstaying its welcome the feature adaptation, largely in the third act, does begin to feel as if it might have been better suited as a TV special rather than anything else. Yet, there’s still enough to enjoy and chuckle at within the likably slightly odd sensibilities of the characters and the way they fit into the world around them, and indeed that which they have created and filled with cabbages. It’s when focusing on the thoughts and feelings of the characters, whether reaching for humour or something a bit more sentimental, that the film works best – particularly as it looks at Brian and his reactions to the companionship that he’s gained and found, and the pride and confidence he finds in himself for having pulled off this achievement.
Much of these moments come across in subtleties within Earl’s performance, and indeed the film as a whole, and yet manage to create an effective impact that fits into the rest of the film. It may slip into familiarity which slightly weighs it down, but there’s still plenty to like about the quirks and oddities that are on display from the very start. This is a film that knows exactly what tone it wants to achieve with its content and characters and does that rather well, without ever feeling as if that’s all that it’s got going for it.
While it might be slightly weighed down by its more conventional elements there’s plenty of highly British quirks and oddities to enjoy from Brian And Charles, not forgetting the more sentimental elements, including within David Earl’s top performance, which carry things along nicely and avoid feelings of just quirk.