Review: 'Brian And Charles' (2022) Dir. Jim Archer
Marking the directorial debut of Jim Archer, this feature film expands on an original short story to look at the power of friendship in the battles one takes to pull themselves out of isolation...
Brian (Earl) lives in the countryside of rural Wales, acting as a local handyman and inventor, pushing his own boundaries in trying to invent new machines and equipment that will enhance both his and the village's lifestyle. But, more often than not, they never work.
His latest creation is a robot companion called Charles (Hayward), who comes to life when a lightning surge gives him the spark needed. This self-thinking and self-learning AI companion slowly takes to Brian, and the two become friends for a quirky new life together.
While Brian suffers from isolation, he has one friend in Hazel (Brealey) whom he enjoys helping and spending time with. With Charles's help, Brian starts to find a new lease of life and understands what it means to invest in friendships and the rewards that can come from them...
David Earl will be immediately recognisable from his recent stints in the works of Ricky Gervais. Bearded, rude, crude, loner but somehow good at heart Kevin in Derek and equally bearded, rude, crude, loner but somehow good at heart Brian in After Life. Earl is back as Brian (not a sequel to 'After Life'!) and is bearded, but not rude or crude. Still a loner and good at heart, but thankfully without the crass material is is always given to push his characters to the edge. This time, Earl shows how much more relatable he can be without a single curse or drip of innuendo from his mouth. His physical and vocal portrayal may be identical, but yet his way of playing Brian here opens up much more reflective range and acting ability from Earl, who is genuinely a good actor.
Charles Petrescu, as monotonous as he is with his well spoken British accent thanks to co-writer and fellow actor Chris Hayward, is as real as they come even as an inanimate object. Made from old mechanical odds and sods, a washing machine and a dummy's head and adorned with gentleman's clothing, Charles has a thing for cabbage and a real drive to be a friend for Brian. Charles brings much of the humour here, bouncing off Brian as he tries to self-develop and learn, from wanting to hula dance on the beaches of Honolulu, or going into town with kids for a pub crawl. He - or it? - is a wonderful creation, and kudos to both Hayward in bringing him so effortlessly to life with his performance.
`The friendship slowly turns in` a parent / child relationship, beautifully showing Brian in his most caring light yet. This relationship with Charles helps break down the prejudice people may have from others from how they look, and shows how honest and caring people can be on the inside.
Louise Brealey as Hazel is the similarly timid and quiet villager who befriends Brian from afar, and finds it had to get close to anyone. Of course, Charles does help bring them together to make the first move, and both Hazel and Brian have the same naive sweetness we come to expect as they friend true friendship, and care for Charles.
However it's not all warm humour and sweet days to the beach, there are moments where we see Brian and Charles struggle to adapt to their new relationship, with Charles struggling to comprehend what it means to be "human". And also the looming threat of village bully Jamie Michie who isn't afraid to push his weight around and prey on those who are vulnerable. It's the sweetness of Brian, Charles and Hazel that make these scenes always uncomfortable to watch due to the malice behind their motives.
Jim Archer presents a quiet, intimate and gently moving drama about friendship and isolation without grandeur or splendour, using the gorgeous rural Wales as his backdrop. He touches on the mockumentary style of filming for this story, and it works only to really allow loner Brian to self-narrate who and what he is to the audiences. The technique flitters through the film, not really consistent enough to make a huge difference or memorable. There is no real need for the mockumentary approach, but when the team remember to use it, it does the job.
With Earl and Hayward sharing writing duties and expanding their original short story for the big screen, this talented trio know just what they want to deliver and what themes to convey for a family friendly comedy drama in standing up for yourself and who - or what - you love.
A tender and genuinely amusing exploration of friendship and being yourself. Earl and Hayward excel in their quirky but loveable roles and you'll be hard pressed to wipe that smile from your face. Cabbage, anyone?
'Brian And Charles' is a co-production between BFI, Film4 Productions and Mr Box Productions