Tomís Midnight Garden

Spanning the years. Hatty and Tom (Hoath and Way) enjoy their time-crossed friendship.
dir-scr Willard Carroll
with Anthony Way, Greta Scacchi, James Wilby, Florence Hoath, Joan Plowright, Liz Smith, David Bradley, Mel Martin, Nick Robinson, Caroline Carver, Nigel Le Vaillant, Serena Gordon
99/UK 2 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
Based on Philippa Pearce's award-winning children's book, Tom's Midnight Garden is a slice of English magical realism examining the passage of time in a clever, intriguing way. It's a charming story that appeals on several levels, but the film has an otherworldly feel to it that makes it all feel rather stilted and artificial.

At age 14, Tom (Way) is packed off to his aunt and uncle (Scacchi and Wilby) for the summer. And it couldn't look less promising when he discovers that they live in a drab flat in what was once a grand manor house ... only now there's no garden to play in. Then at midnight he hears the clock strike 13 and goes exploring, discovering the house in all its grandeur, complete with sprawling grounds and a young girl (Hoath) his age to play with.

The idea itself is terrific, and the themes are quite thoughtful as it looks at how time affects us--and makes us who we are. But Carroll directs the film as if it's Terribly Special--there's no real life grit in it. The dialogue and acting are awkward and stiff (with some exceptions), directed and photographed very strangely. The kids are especially difficult, in that they don't act like kids anywhere, really. The result is a good story buried under filmmaking that looks clumsy and amateurish, even though it isn't (it's very well produced, and Carroll knows what he's doing--see the underrated Playing by Heart). There's simply an irritating slant to it all--sickly sweet in places, condescending and surprisingly predictable. Very young viewers won't mind at all ... but for the rest of us it's a real pity.

[U--some themes] 10.Oct.00
UK release 13.Oct.00

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"Fantistic movie ... have watched it 5 times. Greta is, as always, beautiful." --Jerry Druse, net 3.Mar.03

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© 2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall