Brian And Charles review: surreal and tender comedy-drama

David Earl and Chris Hayward in Brian and Charles
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David Earl and Chris Hayward star in Brian And Charles, a delightful oddcouple comedy about a man and his robot – here’s our review.

His name is Charles Petrescu and he’s very pleased to meet you. You’ve never met anybody like him – and probably never will. He’s a robot, the creation of solitary inventor Brian (David Earl) in Brian And Charles, a mockumentary in the grand tradition of eccentric British comedy pairings. You should put aside all thoughts of a slick artificial intelligence here, however, because Charles (Chris Hayward buried underneath a costume of The Masked Singer level ingenuity) is made with a mannequin’s head and an old washing machine.

He’s just one of Brian’s many creations, most of which don’t work, but Charles is different. He’s been welded together for a practical reason, but his presence and interactions significantly change the lives of those around him.

The socially awkward Brian lives in his ramshackle cottage on the edge of a grey North Wales village. His inventions keep him occupied, but the moments when he looks into the camera reveal their transparency as a disguise for painful loneliness. Charles’ arrival changes that all with the flick of a switch. Having the robot in his life is like bringing up an oversized child. Brian is his guide, mentor, and controller, teaching him to walk and speak – Charles’s tendency to scramble his words provides no end of gentle humour – and passing on an inexplicable love of cabbages. But he has his hands full when, like all children, his companion becomes a teenager, with the inevitable rebellion, defiance, and loud music.

Surreal humour and tenderness are served up in equal measure in a story about loneliness, the yearning to belong, and finding companionship in the most unlikely of circumstances. There’s even a touch of hesitant romance between Brian and the equally painfully shy Hazel (Louise Brealey), who lives with a domineering mother and a parrot. And, ultimately, they all have to learn to let go: Charles, having grown up, has to live life his own way and it’s impossible not to hope that the outside world he craves will give him the warm reception he deserves.

Earl and Hayward wrote the script, an extended version of their 2017 short of the same name. If Earl’s name isn’t familiar, you’ll recognise him
as a Ricky Gervais regular, especially in After Life where his take on Brian is perhaps less sympathetic. He and Hayward are a joy to watch in this oddcouple comedy. It’s impossible not to smile while watching – and to feel a certain prickle in your eyes.

Brian And Charles is in UK cinemas from 8th July.

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