Friday, January 04, 2013

from time to time

We just caught another fun little movie on cable, from Downton Abbey mastermind Julian Fellowes, From Time to Time. Released in 2009, the year before Downton Abbey premiered, From Time to Time stars Downton alums Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville, as well as Timothy Spall, Carice van Houten, and Dominic West in a time-traveling family fantasy.

The story begins in England in 1945, as World War 2 is coming to an end. A 13-year-old boy named Tolly (Alex Etel) is sent by his mother to the country to stay with his great-grandmother (Smith), Mrs. Oldknow, as she assumes he will be safer there than their home in Manchester. Tolly's father is missing in action, and he and his great-grandmother are both worried about him. He is soon distracted from his own troubles when he discovers that they are not alone in the house — it is full of ghosts.

Tolly (center) and his ghostly friends Jacob and Susan
There are two ghosts that Tolly feels most drawn to — two children — a blind girl named Susan (Eliza Hope Bennett) and her best friend, a page boy named Jacob (Kwayedza Kureya), who was brought back to Green Knowe from the West Indies by Susan's father, Captain Oldknowe (Bonneville). His great-grandmother can not only see them too, but she can tell Tolly who they are, and help Tolly learn about his ancestor's past and maybe even solve a long-unsolved family mystery, which involves Susan's mother's (van Houten) jewels and a sinister butler named Caxton (West).

The film was adapted from Treasure of Green Knowe, from 1958, the second in a popular British children's book series the Green Knowe novels, by Lucy M. Boston. The film, like Downton Abbey, is good-looking, with locations, sets and Regency costumes perfectly expressing both period atmospheres. Fellowes is most interested in the human relationships that span the past and present, and how family never really die, but are always with us. My daughter found some of the implied deaths sad, but the fact that Tolly could see the ghosts was also fascinating and in its own way, reassuring.

Tolly helps adorn his wonderful great-grandmother with the family jewels
Maggie Smith is as always, delightful, and From Time To Time is a gentle fantasy with elements that will appeal to lovers of costume drama as well as Kid's adventure stories. It's made me curious about the source material, which include six books written by Boston from 1954-1976, and illustrated by her son, Peter Boston: The Children of Green Knowe (1954), The Chimneys of Green Knowe (1958), The River at Green Knowe (1959), A Stranger at Green Knowe (1961), An Enemy at Green Knowe (1964), and The Stones of Green Knowe (1976).

I liked how From Time To Time reminds us that sometimes the past and the present, the people who came before us and the lives they lived, are not so separate from one another as we might think.
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