At 10-years-old Fraser (Norman) has pretty much a perfect childhood in a lakeside castle in the middle of nowhere with his mad-inventor father (Firth), loving mother (Mastrantonio), wise-yet-cheeky grandma (Harris) and an army of siblings. His millionaire uncle (McDowell) returns from time to time, bringing with him his young French fiancee (Jacob), which stirs in everyone a different reaction. All of this--plus his ravenous reading of his late grandfather's "forbidden" books--teaches Fraser about the realities of life just a bit earlier than his parents would've liked.
It's all warm, gently funny and very well filmed and acted. And there are several terrific scenes that bring out humour and serious meaning. But the film's anecdotal structure, combined with its glossy surface, makes it oddly uninvolving. Frankly, who can identify with this misty, romanticised life? Hudson (Chariots of Fire, Greystoke) shows that he still knows his way around a film set, but he fails to inject any insight, leaving it beautiful but ultimately empty-headed ... and even worse, elitist. My, aren't we lucky to have had such a marvellous fairy-tale childhood when you poor slobs in the 21st century have to live in cramped flats in grotty cities! There are attempts to examine marital fidelity, mortality and loyalty--not to mention the clash between classical music and jazz lovers--but it like the whole film they just feel half-hearted.
[themes, language] 20.Mar.00
UK release 16.Jul.99; UK release 12.May.00
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