Acclaimed actor Richard E. Grant
is a semi-autobiographical "coming-of-
age at the end of an age
" story, told through the eyes of young Ralph Compton.
Set during the last gasp of the British Empire in Swaziland, South East Africa, in
1969, the plot focuses on the dysfunctional Compton family whose gradual
disintegration mirrors the end of British rule.
As an 11-year-old, Ralph witnesses his mother's adultery with his father's best
friend. His parents divorce and Ralph is sent to boarding school. His father, Harry
(Gabriel Byrne), not only loses his wife (Miranda Richardson) and best friend, but
also his position as Minister of Education with the coming of Independence,
prompting his rapid descent into alcoholism.
Now 14, Ralph (Nicholas Hoult) returns home to discover that his father has remarried
an American ex-air "hostess" named Ruby whom his father has known all of
six weeks. As round a peg as you could find in this square holed society, Ruby
(Emily Watson) ridicules the petty snobbery of the restless colonials whose chief
amusements are gin, adultery, and their foppish slang of "toodle-pip" and "hobblyjobbly"
-- that Ruby identifies as sounding like "Wah-Wah."
Although Ralph is initially wary of Ruby, he bonds with her as his father's drinking
escalates and becomes dangerously out of control. It's this chaos that stokes
Ralph's inner turmoil, and eventually forges his creative mind.