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A beautifully crafted labour of love: Paddington review
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IT’S eleven years since producer David Heyman (the Harry Potters) first looked into the idea of making a film about Paddington Bear and the delightful result has all the hallmarks of a beautifully crafted labour of love.
By HENRY FITZHERBERT
Director: Paul King
Stars: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Ben Wishaw, Nicole Kidman, Madeline Harris, Samuel Joslin
Written and directed by Paul King (TV’s The Mighty Boosh) it’s made with immaculate care, enormous affection for the marmalade-loving character and the world he inhabits and great storytelling flair.
Author Michael Bond, who hitherto refused permission for his characters to be used on film, must be breathing a sigh of relief. Paddington is about to conquer the world and hopefully make it a kindler and gentler place.
That may be asking a bit much, of course, but I came out brimming with good cheer toward my fellow man and bear.
That’s the effect Paddington’s unassuming politeness, good nature and gentle innocence tends to have on those around him – well, unless you happen be an evil taxidermist (the film’s villain, played by Nicole Kidman).
It also gets to the heart of why the picture is so successful.
As we follow Paddington’s efforts to assimilate in London it cleverly combines old-fashioned values like courtesy and trust with a modern embrace of diversity and change, delivered with all the action, excitement and style of a top-of-the-range blockbuster.
Ultimately, it’s a charming celebration of difference both in society at large and within the Brown family who take him in, none of whom are quite seeing eye-to-eye when the small talking bear enters their lives.
So how does Paddington end up in London and know english to boot? With wit and economy typical of the film as a whole the story opens with a prologue in “darkest Peru” which establishes just that.
First off, we see some black-and-white newsreel footage of a mustachioed British explorer and his excitable discovery of marmalade-loving bears (the sequence is reminiscent of Pixar’s UP which also featured an old world explorer).
Cut to the present and young Paddington (voiced by Ben Wishaw) is living with his Uncle Pastuzo (Michael Gambon) and Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) who fondly recall the kindly explorer from London.
It’s a place they’ve been “talking about visiting for 40 years”.
Still, who wants to travel abroad when you live in marmalade-guzzling heaven? As Paddington says: “We live in the best place in the world.”
Alas, tragedy strikes and Aunt Lucy dispatches Paddington to London for safe-keeping wearing the explorer’s floppy hat.
Recalling that there was “once a war in the explorer’s country” she reassures Paddington of a warm welcome citing evacuee children embraced by new families.
“They’ll not have forgotten how to treat a stranger” she says. It’s a lovely touch typical of a picture that, like Paddington himself, sees the best in people and a whole country.
He appeals to all our finer instincts.
Of course, that’s not quite how things work out at first. The drama revolves around Paddington’s quest to belong and it’s only reluctantly that he’s taken in by the Brown family – for one night only! – after they find him on an empty platform at Paddington.
The kindly Mrs Brown (Sally Hawkins) and exuberant son Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) are pro-bear but Mr Brown (Hugh Bonneville) and daughter Judy (Madeline Harris) are anti-bear; Mr Brown is a risk analyst terrified of the unknown, Judy a self-conscious teenager concerned that her family are weird enough as it is.
They’re an instantly lovable and identifiable clan – not quite clicking, struggling to carve out their identities – and the casting is perfect. Downton Abbey’s Bonneville is very funny as the fuss-pot patriarch and Hawkins is sweet.
There’s a lovely performance too from Julie Walters as the family’s eccentric “say it like it is” housekeeper, Mrs Bird.
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