FROM TIME TO TIME
In the final stages of World War II, thirteen-year-old Tolly (Alex Etel) is sent to spend Christmas with his grandmother Mrs Oldknow (Maggie Smith), far from wartime London. Within the ancient family manor estate, Green Knowe, Tolly is magically transported back in time to the Napoleonic period, drawn into participating in the family drama. Partly invisible in the past, he begins to unravel the mystery of the missing heirlooms which has bewildered his family for two centuries.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Yes, Tolly (Alex Etel) sees dead people but only some of them see him. After arriving at his family's grand old estate, Green Knowe, his granny Mrs Oldknow (Maggie Smith) tries her best to be supportive but not too optimistic about the fate of Tolly's father missing in action. Tolly remains forever optimistic, though.
As the kid explores the nooks and crannies of Green Knowe, he stumbles into the past; from one room in 1944 to the next in 1808, he magically invades the lives of his ancestors and their circle. These little adventures are presented sometimes as part of a ghost story, other times as time travel, when we see events from the past but not through Tolly's eyes. This confusion makes the film rather less effective than it might have been and reduces all the flitting about to gimmickry.
Well acted, gimmickry, however, with Maggie Smith her reliably sweet old self, a composite of wisdom and grace coupled with down to earth common sense. And heart, too. Young Alex Etel seems a tad brittle as Tolly, but Pauline Collins is lovely and effective as Mrs Tweedle the faithful and decent housekeeper, serving tea and wise counsel to the boy.
Timothy Spall is both underused and a little too mannered as the groundsman who occasionally points out clues in Tolly's adventure, and Dominic West is fine as the gruff and greedy Caxton, the chief of staff. Eliza Hall Bennett plays the blind teenage Susan, the daughter in the film's Napoleonic time setting, and Kwayedza Kureya does a terrific job as the young black slave saved and protected by Susan's caring father, Capt. Oldknow (Hugh Bonneville, excellent).
Lucy Bolton's novel from which it is adapted may well work better as it offers the reader a less concrete manifestation of the magical elements, which on screen look decidedly confused. But the biggest problem standing in the way of the film's success is that it is neither a full-on family film nor a grown up drama - and the ending is both sombre and flat.
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FROM TIME TO TIME (PG)
CAST: Alex Etel, Timothy Spall, Maggie Smith, Christopher Villiers, Pauline Collins, Dominic West, Eliza Hope Bennett, Clarice Van Houten, Kwayedza Kureya
PRODUCER: Julian Fellowes, Paul Kingsley, Liz Trubridge
DIRECTOR: Julian Fellowes
SCRIPT: Julian Fellowes (novel by Lucy M. Boston)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Alan Almond
EDITOR: John Wilson
MUSIC: Ilan Eshken
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Luciana Arraghi
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 2, 2011 (Roseville Cinemas, Sydney; Kino Cinemas, Melbourne; Regal Graceville, Brisbane)