Mischief and Marmalade – ★★★★
It’s the kind of thing that you’ll see on the poster but I’m going to say it anyway – “Paddington is a real delight!”.
The film is the first big-screen adaptation for Michael Bond’s little bear and his red hat. Different generations may have come to know him through the original run of books, or the two popular TV series that arrived in 1975 and 1989. As for whether today’s children have any great affinity for the bear from deepest, darkest Peru remains to be seen but even if this film is their first introduction they’re sure to form a strong bond.
We begin our adventure in a 4:3 black and white world of Peru as explorer Montgomery Clyde happens upon a group of rare bears. Rather than kill them and bring them back for study, he befriends them and leaves them to it. Years later their habitat is destroyed by an earthquake which sees Paddington set off on a freight boat to London. He grabs a lift into the city in a post van and awaits a new family at Paddington station. And it’s here that we meet the Brown family led by Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins, with Madeleine Harris as Judy and Samuel Joslin (The Impossible) as Jonathan – ably rounded off by Julie Walters as Mrs. Bird. Their attempts at finding a new home for Paddington (or shock horror, building a new family together) are thwarted by Nicole Kidman’s delightful taxidermist (always nice to see her have some fun on-screen, the less mention of Bewitched the better).
Hawkins is the stand-out from the Brown family, she brings a warmth and humanity to a rather barmy, eccentric woman who – in the hands of the wrong actress – could have just been “super quirky” and distant. There’s great work in the supporting roles from a few other stalwarts of the British film and TV world – Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas and Jim Broadbent, with voice work from Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton. Look out for the cameo from 88-year-old Paddington creator Michael Bond at Paddington station, Super Hands playing a pickpocket and Alice Lowe as a cranky receptionist. I’m opting not to comment on the fact that there aren’t too many non-caucasian leads or extras in the film…
And so to the bear. Ever since Roger Rabbit, there are always grumbles when live action is combined with visual effects. They’re nothing to write home about here but do a solid job, though I still need convincing that you can feel as strong an affinity with a CGI bear as the one formed by previous generations of children with stop-motion creations. Paddington Bear is voiced brilliantly by the soft-spoken, younthful Ben Whishaw, following a re-casting after Colin Firth left the production. Much like the Samantha Morton/Scarlett Johansson switcheroo in Her, it’s hard to imagine Firth in the role now having seen the film. There are marmalade gags a-plenty and as much mischief and trouble as you could want, all put together into some fantastic sequences, most notably the pick-pocket chase
To be honest, the real joy of the film is in the real world production design, with the Browns’ home (the fictional 32 Windsor Gardens in Notting Hill for the table quiz fans) being beautifully constructed with obvious thought and effort put into every little detail. The geographers’ society archive is an amazing set, and despite the fact we glimpse a solitary HP laptop earlier in the film and some 1980s library database machines, the whole thing feels like its taking place in another era.
Looking at the calibre of people behind the film, it should be no surprise that it has turned out so well. Director Paul King (whose CV features TV comedy credits like “Come Fly With Me” and “The Mighty Boosh”) can obviously do quirky comedy, and when paired with Harry Potter producer David Heyman – who knows how to package up this kind of feel-good British family film – it all adds up nicely to a film which proudly embrace an outsider.
Released across Ireland on November 28th 2014