From Time to Time
dir-scr Julian Fellowes
prd Julian Fellowes, Paul Kingsley, Liz Trubridge
with Maggie Smith, Alex Etel, Timothy Spall, Eliza Bennett, Hugh Bonneville, Dominic West, Carice van Houten, Pauline Collins, Harriet Walter, Kwayedza Kureya, Douglas Booth, Allen Leech
release UK Oct.09 lff
09/UK Ealing 1h35
From Time to Time
It all happened right over there! Etel and Spall

smith bonneville west
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
From Time to Time A dual narrative with a time-travelling twist keeps us engaged throughout this gentle, slightly childish film. And it helps that the strong cast makes the most of the characters and their inter-relationships.

In 1944, surly teen Tolly (Etel) is sent to stay with his grandmother (Smith) in the family manor. This gets interesting when he sees the ghost of a blind girl, Susan (Bennett), and finds himself travelling back and forth to 1808. Susan is in the middle of a power struggle between her caring father (Bonneville) and vain mother (van Houten), which is stirred by the cruel butler Caxton (West). This forces Tolly to develop a relationship with his grandmother, who with handyman Boggis (Spall) helps fill in the historical details.

The best thing about the film is the tension between Tolly and his grandmother, as she has never liked his mother yet both share the emotional scar of his father, who is missing and presumed dead. Through Tolly's adventure, he's forced to develop a respect for her while also understanding his own history. The story's packed with mystery and excitement, although Fellowes' low-key filmmaking style makes it more TV than big-screen.

This certainly isn't due to the quality of the acting. The children are especially impressive, with Etel effortlessly carrying the film (which he also did in Millions and The Water Horse). Bennett is also terrific as the feisty Susan, with the superb Kureya as her ex-slave helper. And while Smith is as fabulous as always, with the expert support of Spall, most of the fine adult cast is stuck with relatively simplistic roles that can be defined by one personality trait (see "caring", "vain" and "cruel" above).

Despite the overly warm, soft-focus feel, children will love the central mystery, which involves a lot of clambering around in chimneys. But just a little bit of edginess would have made the tense scenes pop with life, and surely Fellowes could have found a less simplistic signal for each time-shift (the lighting changes from gloomy to sundrenched). That said, there are some dark shadows in the story, most notably in the modern racial/class themes that are applied to a very different past.

cert pg themes, some violence 15.Oct.09 lff

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall