Paddington Review

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An immigrant's tale

by Steve Withers Mar 31, 2015 at 7:54 AM

  • Movies review


    Paddington Review

    There must have been quite a few people of a certain age holding their collective breath when they heard that Paddington was being adapted for the big screen; none more so than his creator Michael Bond.

    Thankfully we can all heave a collective sigh of relief and, as Michael Bond himself said, sleep easy in our beds. The film adaptation of Paddington is a triumph that perfectly captures the spirit of the original books, whilst giving the story a modern-day spin. This is largely thanks to an inventive and witty script that retains certain key sequences from the original stories and melds them with a enjoyable plot and plenty of very funny jokes. Of course if it was just a series of sight gags, slapstick and jokes Paddington wouldn't work, the success or failure of the film rests on how well the bear himself is brought to life.
    Here the effects team have certainly delivered the goods, creating a believable character that still looks like the traditional image of Paddington but with a more realistic appearance in keeping with the computer generated animation. The hat, the suitcase, the label and the duffel coat are all present and correct; although no red wellies because apparently they were added later to make it easier for the toys to stand up. The final touch is Ben Whishaw's wonderful work providing Paddington with his voice and the actor's gentle tones bring the little bear to life in a way that is both funny and endearing.

    It almost wasn't Whishaw of course and you have to wonder how successful the film would have been if the original choice for Paddington's voice - Colin Firth - hadn't decided he wasn't right for the part. After being involved in the film for a number of years, just six months before its release Firth announced there had been a 'conscious uncoupling' and he was walking away from the project. That meant Whishaw was brought in as a last minute replacement but frankly you couldn't imagine anyone doing a better job of giving Paddington his voice.

    The rest of the cast is equally as impressive and Paddington is a veritable who's who of British thespian talent. Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) and Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) play Mr. and Mrs. Brown, whilst newcomers Samuel Joslin and Madeleine Harris play their children. There's Julie Walters (Harry Potter) as Mrs. Bird, now an elderly relative rather than the housekeeper, Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who) as next-door neighbour Mr. Curry and Jim Broadbent (Moulin Rogue) as the kindly Mr. Gruber. Waters and Broadbent aren't the only Harry Potter alumni in the film, with Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton voicing Paddington's aunt and uncle, whilst Nicole Kidman (The Golden Compass) plays Millicent Clyde, the villain of the piece.

    Paddington captures the spirt of the original books but gives the story a modern-day spin.

    Paddington was first published in the 1950s and since this coincided with a lot of immigration into the UK from the Caribbean, it was seen as a subtle commentary on that period. However the genesis goes back much further with Michael Bond combining a lone teddy bear that he saw on a store shelf at Paddington station with memories of the children evacuated out of London during the Second World War. In a touching scene, the film makes mention of people taking London children in despite their being complete strangers and is one of the reasons Paddington goes to London in the first place. The film even obliquely references the Holocaust as Mr. Gruber explains why his family had to move to London before the war.

    With its positive message of tolerance and acceptance the film subtly touches on serious issues, just as the original books did, and the amusing use of a calypso band as what amounts to a Greek chorus is a clever tip of the hat to Paddington's fifties origins. The film starts in deepest, darkest Peru (where else) and quickly covers Paddington's origins - explaining why he's so polite, why he has an English accent and why he loves marmalade. After that story moves to modern day London and Paddington's adventures with the Brown family begin.

    A lot of credit for the success of Paddington must go to Paul King, who wrote the screenplay and directed the film. Aside from the film's humour and marvellous casting, King also handles the set pieces well, including plenty of visual jokes for smaller children and some more subtle ones for the adults. There are even some funny nods to other films, including Mission: Impossible and a great gag involving Paddington's hat that is a direct reference to a similar scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The result is a clever, witty and charming film that will appeal to all the family; making Paddington one immigrant that even UKIP will want to keep.

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