Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Julian Fellowes,
Stars: Alex Etel, Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Timothy Spall, Dominic West, Pauline Collins, Carice Van Houten, Eliza Hall Bennett, Kwayedza Kureya .
There is something quaint and old fashioned about this intergenerational ghost story and family drama that spans two centuries. From Time To Time is based on the second volume in Lucy Boston’s series of novels about Green Knowe.
The setting is rural England in 1944. Thirteen year old Tolly (Alex Etel, from Millions, The Water Horse, etc) has been sent to live with his estranged grandmother (Maggie Smith) in the family’s ancestral home Green Knowe. His father, a soldier, has been declared Missing In Action, but Tolly remains optimistic that he will return.
During his stay, the inquisitive Tolly learns about the dark history of the place, which seems to have fallen on hard times, and his own family. Meanwhile as he explores dark passageways and neglected rooms throughout the sprawling mansion he magically stumbles back into 1808. Not only does Tolly see dead people but he can interact with these manifestations from the past. In doing so he gets a clearer understanding of the family history. Tolly sees the past unfold in front of him via some ghostly apparitions, and he has the ability to communicate with a couple of the ghosts.
He gets glimpses into the house at the height of its grandeur, when it was presided over by the heroic Captain Oldknow who was often away fighting the Napoleonic Wars. In his absence the house is presided over by Maria (Carice van Houten), the Dutch-born wife who is desperate to be accepted into society. Tolly learns how a wing of the house mysteriously burnt to the ground, and how a fortune in jewels went missing. There is also racism, intolerance, jealousy, and infighting amongst the family.
The film has been adapted by Julian Fellowes, the Oscar winning writer of Gosford Park. Fellowes also makes his directorial debut here and he handles the material with subtlety, cleverly weaving the two time frames together. He has also populated the ensemble cast with many actors from Downton Abbey, the racy version of Upstairs, Downstairs that he both created and wrote for British television.
Smith is wonderful as usual and brings authority and a sense of grace to her role. Hugh Bonneville is excellent and invests Captain Oldknow with dignity and integrity and a strong moral sense. Etel is also solid and has a quite expressive face. Dominic West (from The Wire, etc) brings a nasty edge to his role as Caxton, the Machiavellian and greedy butler. Van Houten (from Black Books, etc) brings an imperious edge and a hint of vulnerability to her role. Timothy Spall is given little to do as Boggis, the loyal groundkeeper. Pauline Collins brings warmth to her role as Mrs Tweedle, the faithful housekeeper. Newcomer Kwayedza Kureya is also very good as Jacob, the young black runaway slave brought home by Captain Oldknow, and charged with caring for his blind daughter Susan (Eliza Hall Bennett).
Technically the production is superb, with Luciana Arrighi’s production design and Jane Robinson’s costumes capturing the Regency period beautifully. Alan Almond’s cinematography is also sumptuous, and he creates a vivid contrast between the two periods, bring warmth and natural light to the past and a grey austere feel to the scenes set in 1944. There is also an undeniably strong emotional punch to the film’s finale.
From Time To Time is a film of broad appeal, but this gentle drama will mainly resonate with children and older audiences who fondly remember those effete British costume dramas of yesteryear.