scene from Brian And Charles

Sundance London 2022 Film Review – Brian And Charles (2022)

The relationship between humans and artificial intelligence has a fascination that never goes away. If anything, it continues to grow and inspire storytellers, whatever their medium. From 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ex Machina to Her and Big Hero 6, the possibilities are limitless. But Brian And Charles takes us somewhere new.

Brian (David Earl) lives a solitary life in his cottage on the edge of a grey Welsh village. Aside from a few odd jobs for neighbours, he spends his time inventing gadgets – some more useful than others – all made from rubbish. But the idea of creating his own robot, with a head taken from a mannequin and an old washing machine for a body, takes him and his life in a completely unexpected direction. He names his creation Charles (Chris Hayward) and the towering robot soon becomes an essential part of his life.

Written by Earl and Hayward and also based on their 2017 short of the same name, this odd couple mockumentary is in the grand tradition of quirky British comedy. The eccentric Brian uses his love of inventing to disguise an aching loneliness – when he breaks the fourth wall and looks straight into the camera, his eyes and the forced jollity reveal the fragility of his attempts.  But Charles is his masterpiece. As the relationship between man and robot develops, it’s clear that Brian is essentially bringing up an over-sized child: he teaches him to walk, talk and even passes on his bizarre love of cabbages. What he doesn’t expect, however, is how his companion’s behaviour will change as he becomes a teenager. Out go a willingness to please and the comical scrambling of words, to be replaced by rebellion, defiance and thudding music.

The humour is surreal, often gentle, but is never shy about pinpointing the film’s themes. It’s portrayal of loneliness, coupled with a longing to be accepted and find companionship, is touching and at times acutely so. But even at its most emotional moments, a smile is never far away as Charles, in his own particular way, affects the lives of everybody around him, and for the better. The awkward Brian even finds a touch of shy romance with Hazel (Louise Brealey), and they all eventually learn how to let go when it becomes clear that Charles has to live his own life, wherever that takes him.

Brian And Charles has a charm that’s almost deceptive. While it’s making you chuckle, it’s also tugging at your emotions as it looks into the depths of loneliness. Earl and Hayward are unforgettable as the unlikely pairing at the centre of the story, live action near-counterparts to Wallace and Gromit and who could easily win just as many hearts.

★★★★


Comedy | Cert: 15 | Sundance London on 12 June, UK cinemas from 8 July | Universal Studios | Dir. Jim Archer | David Earl, Chris Hayward, Louise Brealey, James Michie. | watch interview with David Earl a& Chris Hayward