David (Sam Smith) and his Jewish parents Ruth (Emily Woof) and Victor (Stanley Townsend) live a quiet suburban London life in the 1960s, when their street's equilibrium is shattered by the new neighbours - a Jamaican family. But for the cricket-mad but cricket-impotent David, this is a miracle: Dennis next door is a Jamaican cricket nut, and he is soon coaching the young white boy with excellent results. And David is also forming a friendship with the cricketing daughter Judy (Leonie Elliott). Victor is too busy with his shop to play cricket with David, but the boy's newfound friends create friction in more than one respect. Racial tension and the pull of cricket leave everyone unsettled, until a nasty incident shatters the peace.
Review by Louise Keller:
Wondrous Oblivion is one of those films that simply grows on you. It's a fresh and joyous story about discrimination and belonging, and you don't have to be mad about cricket to understand the passion that 11 year-old David has for the game.
Documentary maker Paul Morrison brings sensitivity and energy into his vibrant script, in this story set in post-war fifties London, when immigrants brought both intolerance and promise to their new country. With its timeless themes of family and friendships, restraint is contrasted with exuberance in the suburban neighbourhood where houses sit in close proximity to each other, offering little privacy from one backyard to the next.
As the film's title implies, David is an innocent. A sensitive young boy who initially thinks that being accepted by his snobby prep peers in the most important thing - after cricket, that is - he always feels like an outsider. At home, where nosy neighbours create divisions, discrimination is rife, and although his Jewish family is accepted, their acceptance is superficial.
The contrast between the narrow-minded, bigoted mentality of the residents and the exuberance of the new neighbours from Jamaica would not be greater. From the infectious music played on the day of their arrival and the genuine zest for living that Delroy Lindo's Dennis exudes, it is hard to ignore this likeable family. 'If you know what your goal is, you can reach it more easily,' says Dennis, and what a charismatic character Lindo makes him, this huge man with the contagious grin and unlimited patience, as he teaches David to play cricket. After all, everyone plays cricket in Jamaica - even the girls.
At the heart of the film is the friendship between David and Judy, and both youngsters are splendid. Sam Smith (BBC's Oliver)'s David has an old-fashioned appeal, and we understand his connection to the hundreds of cricket collector cards, whose famous faces 'talk' to him like imaginary friends. Leonie Elliott's Judy is naturally honest, and her every emotion shines like a bright star. Emily Woof (who played Nancy to Smith's Oliver) is delightful as David's mother, making a stark contrast (both in size and demeanour) with Lindo's extroverted charmer. We warm to Stanley Townsend's Victor, this hard-working storekeeper who broadens his narrow attitude as the story progresses.
I guarantee that by the end of Wondrous Oblivion, a big smile will have found its place on your face, and the emotional payoff is enough to prompt a few satisfying tears. It's a beautiful and enjoyable film that involves and intertwines its complex themes seamlessly.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
By coincidence, only days before seeing this film I had viewed the Bollywood epic, Lagaan, in which a game of cricket between stuffy English soldiers in Empire-days India and a bunch of villagers (who had never seen the game) fighting to avoid paying lagaan (land tax) almost turned me into a cricket fan. Sadly, Wondrous Oblivion has undone all that good work, and in less than half the time.
To put a positive spin on it, the film has several excellent elements, including a playful and effective magic realism involving those old fashioned playing cards (this is 1960, remember, and they're Player's cigarettes sponsored) with famous cricketers on the back. These sometimes move and talk, at least in David's youthful imagination. This is well used, and sparingly enough to be effective. The cinematography also stands out, as do performances by Delroy Lindo and Leonie Elliott as his daughter.
However, both Emily Woof and Stanley Townsend are miscast as a Jewish couple (he from Poland, she from Germany), not only because of the embarrassingly 'pretend' accents (more an Emily Woof weakness) but their pretend characters which are so culturally void.
The screenplay is stilted, the scenes are forced, the racism message is jackhammered home and the young boy's emotional journey is peppered by half hearted subplots (tentative illicit affair, school environment, neighbourhood nasties) which are nailed on with a blunt instrument. Good intentions, which are evident, are not enough. Nor is the title as the catchphrase so misused and so bizarre in its context.
The cricket, in which we have to invest heavily, is poorly directed, whether at the practice net or in the field, and the film seems to clunk from one episode to another, as if taken from a long story with some connecting tissue cut out.
The fact that at times I find the music irritating is a sign that my emotions weren't engaged: rather like grating between first and second gear in a 1960 Humber.
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WONDROUS OBLIVION (PG)
CAST: Sam Smith, Delroy Lindo, Emily Woof, Stanley Townsend, Leonie Elliott, Angela Wynter
PRODUCER: Jonny Persey
DIRECTOR: Paul Morrison
SCRIPT: Paul Morrison
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Nina Kellgren BSC
EDITOR: David Freeman
MUSIC: Ilona Sekacz
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Eve Stewart
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch/Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 20, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video
VIDEO RELEASE: March 16, 2005