The title, sadly, has nothing to do with guitar pedals. Wah-Wah is the term coined by Emily Watson's American ex-pat to describe the snooty baby-talk favoured by colonial Brits propping up the failing empire in Swaziland. Richard E Grant's semi-autobiographical film, dealing with his childhood among these booze-sodden bedhoppers, is superbly performed and fluently shot. But the only feeling it successfully provokes is annoyance. By the time it's over, you feel like slapping some sense into the lot of them.
There's no doubt that Grant had a terrible time as a kid. His father (Gabriel Byrne) was a psychotic drunk and his mother, played with ghastly iciness by Miranda Richardson, ran off with another man. The young Grant, here named Ralph, seeks solace in his puppet theatre and, later on, in the subversive thrills of A Clockwork Orange.
"A BIT OF A STRETCH"
Wah-Wah is a depressing mix of domestic friction - whiskey glasses hit walls with machine-gun regularity - and toffs behaving badly. The narrative, such as it is, follows the local diplomats' club as they attempt to mount a production of Camelot to mark the end of British rule. Grant does his best to parallel the decline of the Empire with the implosion of his own family, but it's a bit of a stretch. Julie Walters, as Ralph's daffy aunt, and Emily Watson as his stepmother, provide welcome interludes of lightness and humanity. On this evidence, Grant has great skill with actors and sharp eye with a camera. Let's hope his next film tackles a more interesting topic.