If there's a robopocalypse coming, I want Charles by my side. The film companion character comes in many different forms. We've seen them as pets, aliens, imaginary friends and of course, robots - but we've never met a companion quite like Charles Petrescu (Chris Hayward). Charles is an AI robot constructed from the mind of Brian (David Earl, TV's Derek'), a lonely and frankly quite odd soul, who spends his time creating inventions and keeping to himself.
When we first meet Brian, he tells the audience through voiceover that life for him just hasn't quite panned out the way he expected, but we mustn't worry. After giving himself a "kick up the bottom," Brian realises he needs to keep himself busy and starts making inventions. There's the pine cone bag, the egg belt, the flying grandfather clock so the townspeople know that it's "roughly 2:30", and many other quirky combinations. It's not that these inventions are failures (though useless), but it's more that Brian has an epiphany that he should create the one thing he craves the most - a companion. In the mockumentary style of the film, Brian gallantly expresses that he's fine being alone, and he wouldn't want to be greedy by tying someone down, but someone by his side would be nice. Of course we see through Brian, and no matter how brave a face he may put on, he is ultimately lonesome and sad. So naturally, when Brian successfully builds his robot, he is just over the moon when Charles becomes sentient, and he finally has someone in his life to be by his side.
Expanded into a feature length from a short, both directed by Jim Archer, 'Brian and Charles' is the quintessential buddy-robot movie you never knew you needed. This film evokes a charm and tenderness that I just absolutely fall for every time, bringing a warmth that beautifully contrasts the cold Welsh countryside location. I laughed loads throughout the film, and had such a good time with all the action on screen. Action may seem like a strong word, as this is mostly a quiet and introspective film, but the characters feel so approachable and likeable that I fond myself glued to the screen. Such a pleasant and engaging viewing experience is not easy to come by, but British cinema often seems to find a way.
Drawing a lot from his character in Ricky Gervais' TV show 'After Life', Earl's Brian is a bit of a sad sack of a man. Things just don't seem to go his way, but he never lets a failure get in the way of his next idea. As he says, "When a door closes, another door opens, until eventually that door will likely close, but then another one will open". Brian is sweet-natured in his quiet innocence, so audiences are equally thrilled when Charles enters the picture. Amusingly, not even Brian knows how his invention worked, so don't give yourself a migraine trying to calculate the science behind it all.
It's such a joy to watch the relationship between Charles and Brian grow. They dance, eat scrambled cabbage together, watch TV, and ultimately form a bond that's akin to a combination of owning a dog, and raising a teenager. Charles waits excitedly by the door for Brian to come home, but is equally - and entertainingly - moody and stroppy when he doesn't get his way.
It's such a joy to watch the relationship between Charles and Brian grow.
Of course, there needs to be more than just this to justify a feature-length film, so the creative team bring in some much needed characters to the frame. There's Eddie (Jamie Michie, 'In The Heart of the Sea'), a bully who's known Brian since school, June (Cara Chase) the kind-hearted shopkeeper, and Hazel (Louise Brealey, TV's 'Sherlock'), Brian's friend and object of affection - not that he dare act on anything. And therein lies the heart of this film. As wonderful and as watchable as the relationship between Brian and Charles is, the essence of it all is how Charles' presence helps Brian grow as a person.
If this sounds a little cheesy and predictable, that's because it mostly is. Running 90 minutes long, you could probably map the entirety of the film beat by beat, and yet, due to the heart that runs through it, it just didn't seem to bother me at all. Likewise I had a problem with the mockumentary style of the film. This style was brought over from the original short, and it's a great tool in the opening ten minutes when audiences are given an insight into the kind of character Brian is. But unfortunately, it feels a little lazy, and I will always prefer a "show, don't tell" approach to a character. Furthermore, the mockumentary style seems to drift in and out, and you forget you're meant to be watching one until a point where Brian will talk and face the camera, which feels jarring and unnecessary.
But don't let this detract from the overall experience of the film. Full of heart, warmth and laughter, 'Brian and Charles' feels like a hidden gem before it's even hit the screens. With an intimate atmosphere and quirky characters, it seems at times like this film was made specifically for you to have a good time, to share in the joy of the premise, and learn a thing or two along the way.