It might sound like a poundshop Transformers on paper, but this lo-fi, seriously funny and utterly beguiling British robot comedy is proof that you don’t need Hollywood budgets to forge something special out of the sci-fi genre. Sometimes a mannequin’s head, an old washing machine and a big heart works even better.
That dummy’s head and Zanussi-shaped torso belong to Charles Petrescu, the lanky A.I. at the heart of this endlessly winning Brit flick. He’s the creation of lonely inventor, Brian Gittens (David Earl), who beavers away in his workshop with his sidekick mouse, Mr Williams, turning out Heath Robinson-esque gadgets of limited utility, like a turbo cup scrubber and an egg belt.
For a solitary man squirrelled away in a remote Welsh cottage, the creation of this sentient new life force is a point of pride and astonishment. Then Charles starts talking – and, swiftly, learning – and there’s also the touching realisation that he hasn’t just built a robot, he’s found a friend.
Earl plays these beats with the expert hand of a man who has been building these characters in his head for years, while his co-writer and co-star Chris Hayward delivers genuinely skilful physical comedy from beneath that cumbersome robot get-up.
What started out as their experimental stand-up routine and became a 2017 short film expands naturally into a sweet-natured exploration of growing up and letting go that eshews gags but still regularly mines comedy gold from this odd-couple bromance.
Props, too, to director Jim Archer (who also made the short) for making it all feel cinematic: intimate rather than small – and getting the tone spot-on.
The towering, ungainly Charles could easily be creepy and uncanny, but he’s nothing but loveable
The towering, ungainly Charles could easily be creepy and uncanny, but he’s nothing but loveable – with a childlike streak that gives way to teenage petulance and bedroom sulks soundtracked by death metal. ‘You are a very, very cheeky robot!’ scolds Brian as his new pal begins defying him in all sorts of ways that will be instantly recognisable to any parent watching.
It’s a testiment to the deftness and love with which Brian and Charles is made that its sweetness never becomes saccharine, and the eccentricity never feels forced. The result is a total delight – the surprise package of the year. Maybe singularity isn’t such a scary prospect, after all?
Brian and Charles is in UK cinemas Jul 8.