Thursday, July 3, 2014

Streaming choice: An estate full of ghosts, Maggie Smith, and some enjoyable time-travel fill Julian Fellowes' sweet film, FROM TIME TO TIME

It's cast with a bevy of some of Britain's finest actors, it's sweet and sentimental about everything from the past to parenting to death itself, and it's quiet and maybe a tad slow for anyone raised on Transformers and other so-called blockbusters. Yet FROM TIME TO TIME -- adapted (from a novel by Lucy M. Boston) and directed by Julian Fellowes (shown below, of Gosford Park and Downton Abbey) -- manages to hold our attention, while alternately charming, moving and befuddling us.

Basically a children's movie (ten years and up, I'm guessing) that adults can quite enjoy, Fellowes' film (first seen in 2009) is set in England during World War II, as young Tolly Oldknow (Alex Etel, below, right) -- whose soldier father is missing in action and whose mother is estranged from the family -- comes to stay for Christmas at the estate of his grandmother (Maggie Smith, below, left). This great home has clearly seen better days and is now peopled by a skeleton staff (Pauline Collins and Timothy Spall, the latter shown in the penultimate photo, below) but also by a bevy of ghosts from a century or two past. Young Tolly soon finds himself embroiled in not only the current financial problems of the estate but the much more pressing and dramatic doings of those ancestors who lived here all those deacdes ago.

At first it seems as though only Tolly can see these ghosts (only some of whom can see him), but eventually we learn that this "skill" is simply something that comes with the estate.

Approximately half of the starry cast is made up of actors who plays these progenitors (some of whom Mr. Fellowes has since made use of in further endeavors): Hugh Bonneville (above, center), as pater familias (soon to be used in that now-famous "Abbey"), and Douglas Booth as his spoiled, nasty son (who would go on to play Romeo in Fellowes' recent and better-than-you've-heard Shakespeare adaptation).

Also on hand are Carice van Houten (above, left) as the grasping wife and Dominic West (above, right) as a conniving butler. Everyone plays into his/her role nicely, and some (as Ms Van Houten's character) are even given interesting moral shadings of good and bad.

The main theme, however, is that of young Tolly's learning to come to terms with, well, death -- of those characters from the past whom he has grown to care for, as well as one important person from the present. How he does this proves the movie's greatest strength, and Fellowes handles it quite gracefully and movingly. If you are able to staunch that inevitable flood of tears, you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

From Time to Time, running 96 minutes, can be viewed now via Netflix streaming and elsewhere -- and is also available on DVD. 

No comments: