Veteran actor Richard E Grant makes his directorial debut with the likable, and self-penned, 'Wah-Wah'. This semi-autobiographical coming-of-age film is set in Grant's native Swaziland during the dying days of the British empire and, while Grant looks back affectionately at the trappings of a colonist past - evenings at the club, afternoon teas, cricket and 'Camelot' - he doesn't wallow entirely in nostalgia. Instead, he focuses on the story of a young boy whose dysfunctional home life mirrors the political upheaval in his home country.

Grant's cinematic alter ego is Ralph Compton, played at first as a confused and lost 11-year-old by Zac Fox while Nicholas Hoult ('About A Boy') portrays the angry, but resilient, teenager three years on. The story is told through Ralph's eyes and it is from his disgusted back seat perspective that we first meet his beloved mother, Lauren (Richardson), having sex with her husband's best friend in the front of a parked car. Lauren doesn't stick around for much longer and when she runs off with her lover there's a huge hole left in the lives of both Ralph and his father, the charming-when-sober Harry (Byrne).

When Ralph returns after three years of boarding school, Harry, who has turned into a raging and destructive drunk, greets him with news of his remarriage to a forthright American called Ruby (Watson). Relations between them are initially strained but, with Harry's alcoholism accelerating dangerously, Ralph and Ruby find common ground and develop a genuine fondness for each other.

Although Grant elicits wonderful performances from a superb ensemble cast - both boys are thoroughly convincing, Gabriel Byrne accurately captures Harry's sober vulnerability and drunken menace while Emily Watson is a strong foil - the film is too episodic to completely convince. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that an original running time of 120 minutes been cut by almost a third, leaving occasional plot holes. Despite this, there are wonderful moments: female neighbours competing to offer comfort food to the abandoned males; Ralph flirting with a middle-aged cinema attendant to get himself into 'A Clockwork Orange'; and Julie Walters doing a drunken striptease at a pool party.

A labour of love - Grant struggled for five years to get this made - 'Wah-Wah' is a sincere and deeply personal film. A very promising filmmaking debut from an always-interesting actor.

Caroline Hennessy