When on the eve of WWII in a Yorkshire town, the local coal mine closes and Sam Carraclough (John Lynch) is out of job, his young family falls on hard times. They are forced to sell Lassie (Lassie), their beloved dog, to the Duke of Rudling (Peter O'Toole), much to the chagrin of their young son Joe (Jonathan Mason). Lassie never stops trying to return home to the people he knows, trusts and loves, not even when he finds herself transported five hundred miles away to the Duke's remote castle on the northern coast of Scotland. Still determined to return to her home, she manages to outsmart the Duke's nasty kennelman Eddie Hynes (Steve Pemberton) and sets off South, finding danger and adventure on the way, including a sobering encounter with a traveling entertainer (Peter Dinklage) and his dog.
Review by Louise Keller:
Peter O'Toole, Samantha Morton and John Lynch may get top billing, but the beautiful collie with the soulful eyes is the undisputed star of this latest version of Lassie. There have been numerous retellings of the heart-rending story of the dog that fights against the odds to find its way home to the boy who loves him, and demand for Lassie look-alikes will be high. The distinction of this English co-production is in the casting, where the emphasis is on character, rather than 'cuteness'. But the script is disappointing, leaving us wanting emotionally.
Most of the heartstrings are tugged early in the piece when nine year old Joe (Jonathan Mason) tells his beloved companion that he doesn't love him anymore, so as to stop him from running away from his new home. Samantha Morton and John Lynch are solid as the parents, and the two youngsters (Mason and Hester Odgers) are natural and have appeal. As for Lassie, she fits the bill perfectly, and who wouldn't want such a friend to meet them after school and stay with them as they fall asleep at night?
The poverty stricken Carraclough family's life is a sharp contrast to that of the Duke's (Peter O'Toole's) who want for nothing, and writer, producer, director Charles Sturridge (Brideshead Revisited) effectively takes us into both worlds. It's when Lassie escapes from the Duke's austere grey castle in the far north of Scotland that we get a sense of the spectacular hills and moors. There's a wonderful feeling of freedom as the wind sweeps across the grassy plains and ripples through Lassie's thick coat. But as Lassie starts his journey home, the script seems to stumble, and even cameo performances from the likes of Edward Fox, Kelly McDonald and Peter Dinklage as a fisherman, a passer-by and travelling puppeteer, become tokenistic. Also less than credible is the one-dimensional characters like the Duke's dog trainer and the men from the dog pound in Glasgow; how could they be in these positions if they were outwardly cruel to animals.
Uplifting without the emotional bells and whistles, Lassie is a moderately enjoyable family film, reinforcing the bond we have with our four legged friend.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Lassie, the very icon of a loyal dog, has saturated our consciousness ever since the book was published (1940) and then in subsequent films (about 10) and TV shows. That's no reason, of course, to stop making any more remakes of the film, especially as this film is said to be only the second that "dramatises" Eric Knight's original story. So say the producers, but I put the parentheses around the word dramatised because that's not what I would call it. Call me hard to please, but Charles Sturridge's film leaves me unmoved and unengaged by the lovely story, and that's despite its handsome look (other than dreadful fake snow at the end) and its stellar cast.
Lassie should rip our hearts out, or at least make us rip our hankies out, and the story should bound along just like this canine star does among the hills of Scotland. Nice scenery. But as a two hour movie, this telling is insipid and meandering, sometimes jumping ahead in jerks, and sometimes losing focus altogether.
The central encounter with a travelling showman (fine work from Peter Dinklage) on Lassie's run home is a great opportunity for some genuine adventure (as distinct from shots of Lassie looping along through thickets, hills or city streets), this plays as a clumsy and overstated piece of pantomime.
John Lynch is suitably mournful throughout, Samantha Morton is excellent as Joe's mum, and young Jonathan Mason as Joe himself is terrific, a natural screen actor who can keep it simple and small enough to draw us in. Lassie, of course, is lovable, but would have been even more loveable with a stronger script.
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CAST: Lassie, Samantha Morton, Peter O'Toole, John Lynch, Steve Pemberton, Brian Pettifer, Peter Dinklage, Jonathan Mason, Hester Odges
PRODUCER: Charles Sturridge, Francesca Barra, Ed Guiney,
DIRECTOR: Charles Sturridge
SCRIPT: Charles Sturridge (novel Eric Knight)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Hoard Atherton
EDITOR: Peter Coulson, Adam Green
PRODUCTION DESIGN: John Paul Kelly
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Victoria: March 9, 2006; Qld: April 6; other states April 13, 2006
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video
VIDEO RELEASE: September 6, 2006