The team behind Whisky Galore knew they could only make their film in Scotland, a region that offered the support they needed to realise their homespun yarn. Wendy Mitchell reports.
Alan J ‘Willy’ Wands, a producer on the remake of Whisky Galore, knew he had found one of the film’s key locations when he arrived at the fishing village of Portsoy in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. “The minute I saw Portsoy, I knew it was Todday,” he recalls. “It’s got a unique 17th century harbour and it was very easy to take it back in time.”
The fictional village of Little Todday and Great Todday feature in the beloved 1949 black-and-white Ealing Studios production, inspired by the true story of the SS Politician, which ran aground in the Outer Hebrides in 1941 while carrying 246,000 bottles of whisky.
It is now being remade in glorious colour, financed by private investors and the UK film tax credit, with director Gillies Mackinnon (Small Faces) at the helm and a cast including James Cosmo, Gregor Fisher, John Sessions, Eddie Izzard and Ellie Kendrick.
Having found their ideal location, the crew also enjoyed huge local support. “It was sensational the way everybody in Portsoy got behind it,” Location Manager David Taylor notes. Aberdeen City Council was “absolutely fantastic to work with”, he adds, and the production was able to shut down traffic in some areas of the village and clear boats out of the harbour for a fortnight.
Wands, who has previously worked on projects where alternative locations such as Romania have doubled for Scotland, knew that Whisky Galore had to be shot at home. “You couldn’t have done the Western Isles anywhere else,” he asserts.
While they did not shoot on the islands, the production worked in creative ways with mainland Scotland’s shooting spaces; tank work was done in a Glasgow canal and one of the city’s former warehouses was used for interior sets such as the Todday post office and the interior hull of the ship.
The production also shot along the Ayrshire coast, Loch Thom, in the former shipyards at Govan, the Auld Kirk of St Monans in Fife, the village hall in Luss near Loch Lomond and the dramatic cliffs near St Abb’s Head. One pivotal location was Geilston House, a National Trust property. “It’s a period house, so with minimal dressing we could turn it into what we wanted it to be,” Taylor says. “Being at Geilston saved us on the cost of building more sets.” In particular, he credits a strong working relationship with Anna Rathband, Filming Manager for National Trust of Scotland.
Creative Scotland supported the production by paying for eight days of early location scouting, and being on-hand throughout production. “The location department at Creative Scotland are great,” says Taylor. “When I’m filming I speak to them on a daily basis. They have a good knowledge of all locations. If you need a little jaunt along with a particular local authority, [Creative Scotland’s] Brodie Pringle can help cut through the layers of bureaucracy.”
Wands adds that shooting in Glasgow has improved greatly after the creation of the city’s film charter and Glasgow Film Office, “which helps a lot”. He also praises the assistance of the city’s roads department and police, helped by their experience on big shoots such as World War Z.
“Scotland has so much to offer and it’s full of stunning locations,” says Taylor. “We are a small country but it’s rural, so there are many areas that can look so different. And the cities [can be turned] into any other cities in the world.”