MAGGIE SMITH

MAGGIE SMITH

I have written in this space about several movies that had time-travel themes, but none so elegant as From Time to Time, a 2009 British production directed by Julian Fellowes.

The story is set in a country estate in England at the end of World War II. A 13-year-old boy named Tolly, played by Alex Etel, is sent to stay at the old house with his grandmother, Mrs. Oldknow, played by Maggie Smith. Mrs. Oldknow’s son — who is Tolly’s father — has been missing in action, and Tolly is holding onto a conviction that his dad is still alive. Tolly’s mother, who has had a cool relationship with Mrs. Oldknow, is occupied with trying to determine her husband’s fate, and she believes Tolly would be safer in the country until the war is over.

Tolly is very interested in the house and in his ancestors who have lived there, and he is distressed to learn that his grandmother, who has a great affection for her home and loves to tell Tolly stories about its past, can no longer afford to keep the place up and is planning to sell it.

ALEX ETEL

KWAYEDZA KUREYA, ALEX ETEL, and ELIZA BENNETT

As Tolly explores the house and the grounds, he begins slipping from the mid-twentieth century into a time two hundred years before. He enters a room and finds it occupied by his ancestors and their retinue. Chief among these figures is the master of the house, a magnanimous sea captain played by Hugh Bonneville. Most of these shadows are unaware of Tolly, but one who is immediately sensible of his presence is Capt. Oldknow’s blind young daughter, Susan (Eliza Bennett).  Susan is inadvertently the cause of a family crisis when Capt. Oldknow returns from one of his voyages with a black boy, a fugitive American slave named Jacob (Kwayedza Kureya). This lad, the captain announces, is to be a companion for Susan, and he is to be treated as a member of the household, not as a servant. This is met by resistance from Capt. Oldknow’s restless wife, Maria (Carice van Houten), his spoiled son Sefton (Douglas Booth), and from a none too disinterested servant named Caxton (Dominic West). The jealousy and antagonism directed at Jacob when the captain is away from home sets off a chain of events that results in a mystery that is not resolved until Tolly, the inquisitive time traveler, sorts it out.

HUGH BONNEVILLE and CARICE van HOUTEN

HUGH BONNEVILLE and CARISE van HOUTEN

This movie gets only fair to middlin’ reviews, but we found it entertaining and engaging. The quirky characters, including Pauline Collins as the latter-day household’s outspoken cook, Mrs. Tweedle, and Timothy Spall as the gruff Dickensian handyman whose bloodline has a critical place in the Oldknow family history.

Like a lot of  people, I suspect, I have been fascinated by the idea of time travel since I was a kid and have fantasized about the day when I myself could visit the past. According to a physics book I read not long ago, time travel to the future is possible, but time travel to the past is out of the question. It’s not  out of the question in the movies, though, so that’s where I do it, and it has never been more fun than in this film.

Time to Time 3

ALEX ETEL

ALEX ETEL

We watched “Millions,” a British fantasy from 2004 in which a seven-year-old boy finds a small fortune in English pounds and learns a few things about the good and bad potential in money.

Frank Cottrell Boyce adapted his novel for this screenplay and the film is directed, with a lot of whimsy, by Danny Boyle.

The story revolves around a fictional event, the deadline for Britons to either deposit their pounds in the bank or convert them into euros. A very large amount of the obsolete currency is being shipped by rail to a destination where it will be burned. A ring of thieves conspire to steal the money and toss it off the train bag by bag to be recovered by colleagues who are waiting trackside. One of the bags goes bounding into a cardboard “rocket ship” and brings it crashing down onto young Damian Cunningham (Alex Etel), who constructed it out of  cartons and was playing inside.

LEWIS McGIBBON

LEWIS McGIBBON

Damian confides in his older brother Anthony (Lewis McGibbon), and the brothers immediately disagree on how to dispose of the cash before it becomes worthless. Damian, who is obsessed with saints to the point that he regularly meets and converses with them, wants to use the money to help the poor — though he isn’t quite sure what condition qualifies as “poor.” Anthony wants to spend some of the money on creature comforts and invest the rest — in real estate, for instance.

The windfall, and the manner in which the boys handle it, eventually brings their father, Ronnie (James Nesbitt), to grief — as though he didn’t have enough trouble, what with being recently widowed and trying to shepherd his sons on his own. The domestic and financial matters are further complicated when Ronnie meets and connects with, as it were, an attractive woman named Dorothy (Daisy Donovan), who met the boys — and inadvertently discovered their wealth — while conducting a charity drive at their school. In the end, thanks to filthy lucre, all the principals learn something about themselves and about each other.

KATHRYN POGSON

KATHRYN POGSON

This is a difficult film to categorize, because it mixes some childhood hijinx with some serious themes. I have found some heated debate on movie web sites about whether it is even suitable for children, although the two boys dominate most of the scenes. Among the most ingenious and entertaining passages are Damian’s encounters with saints, including Joseph, Peter, Francis of Assisi, Nicholas, and Clare. These are not necessarily reverent portrayals, although the insight Damian gains from these conversations is usually therapeutic. And, after all, these are not presented as the actual saints but the saints as they exist in the imagination of a seven-year-old boy. Kathryn Pogson as St. Clare (“patron saint of television … it keeps me busy”) and Enzo Cilenti as St. Peter (“I’m on the door”) are especially hilarious.

Approach this with an open mind, and it’s a worthwhile experience.

LEWIS McGIBBON and ALEX ETEL

LEWIS McGIBBON and ALEX ETEL