Wah-Wah is a semi biographical movie written and directed by Richard E Grant himself and is adapted from the story of his life as a young man growing up in post colonial Swaziland.
Wah-Wah is set in the late 1960s as the country is about to be granted independence from the last vestiges of the British empireand follows the story of Ralph Compton, a boy who is the son of a colonial administrator, a very high up and important person who also happens to be a complete alcoholic. His mother is constantly sleeping with other men and his father is exceptionally hard on the young lad, but he cannot stop himself from loving both of them. Its an exceptionally honest portrayal of Grant’s formative years and seems almost a way of giving his parents absolution for their behaviour. In fact what comes through very strongly is an underlying theme of great love, despite the way they behave, both parents love each other very much and also love their son. Who ever said that lifeand relationships were straightforward after all?
Another theme that rears its head again and again is the incredible snobbery present in the country at the time. With the necessity to keep up appearances paramount, the mother’s infidelities must always be covered up and outsiders are barely tolerated, regarded as second class citizens, whilst the natives are happily polygamous and seem in all to be a lot more well adjusted than their colonial overlords.
There is a stellar cast of some of the great British actors, including Gabriel Byrne, best known for The Usual Suspects, Julie Walters, Fenella Woolgar, John Carlisle and the ever wonderful Miranda Richardson, but the standouts are the two young actors selected to play Ralph himself at different times in his life, Zac Fox and Nicholas Hoult, who portray the biographical character at the ages of 11 and 14 respectively.
From such an assured directing debut, Richard E Grant would be quite entitled to give up acting all together and concentrate on his writing and directing. It’s a raw and very personal movie but there’s nothing self absorbed or mawkish about it. This is one of those films that stays with you long after you have watched it.