Sitges 2022 Review: BRIAN AND CHARLES, Bridges Over Troubled Waters
It's a cliché to say that people need people, but it is a cliché because it's true (at least for most of us). Humans are social creatures and built for community and love, be that friendship or romantic. And while all relationships have their ups and downs, if you can find some special people who really get you, in whom you can enjoy time and the world around you, that's all your heart needs. Brian and Charles is a lovely tribute to that power of friendship and love, with all its humour, exacerbation, longing, and fierce loyalty.
The trio of director Jim Archer (in his feature debut), and writers and stars David Earl and Chris Hayward, this expansion of their short film takes something of a familiar path, but with much delight to be had in the journey as its titular characters figure out their friendship in the world that doesn't always have room for such oddballs.
And oddballs might be putting it mildly: Brian (Earl) is an eccentric inventor, a man living in rural Wales, a beautiful spot that nonetheless leaves him isolated, despite the friendliness of the villagers (in particular the very sweet Hazel (Louise Brealey). It's a life more lonely than Brian might admit, given that his inventions, while imaginative, are pretty much useless. One day, while searching through rubbish (or as he sees it, treasures waiting to be remade), he finds a mannequin head. Several days of welding and wiring and repurposing a washing machine later, and he creates Charles (Hayward).
Charles isn't physically what any would expect from a robot, but in Brian's eyes, made from his own hands, Charles is a wonder. He learns words from reading the dictionary (because, how else?), he loves to dance, he loves cabbages: really, he loves everything that Brian does, and who wouldn't want a companion like that? But like any parent can tell you, a child goes through a rebellious phase, and doesn't understand the dangers of the world. And Brian is ill-equipped to deal with such a teenager, who never sleeps and is still not capable of more complex thought than its immediate needs. As Brian deals with the difficulties local bully (intent on using Charles for his own nefarious purposes), and the joy of new-forming love with Hazel, he realizes what been missing in life, which frightens and thrills him.
Filmed as a documentary, Archer lets his actors take the narrative on their backs; but we're lucky that they do so. Earl is absolutely charming as Brian - a loner, but thankfully not the creepy kind we often see in this type of character - he's someone we both might want to avoid due to his eccentricities, but once we get to know him, we stand behind his growing strength. And it's not easy to act from within a box, but Hayward gives Charles a distinct personality and deadpan, unintentional humour.
We don't get enough science fiction comedies like Brian and Charles, that bring us complex and loveable characters, the kind of people we often dismiss too readily in real life, without knowing the true loneliness they carry, and the joy they have to offer, to us and to each other.
Brian and Charles
- Jim Archer
- David Earl
- Chris Hayward
- David Earl
- Chris Hayward
- Louise Brealey