Lately, copywriters from all over have been taking all sorts of liberties with grammar, using nouns as verbs and adjectives as nouns and all manner of other indiscretions.
When I saw the title of this film I had some grave concerns. This beautiful fantastic what? I couldn’t help thinking. Then, when the voiceover started rolling as the film commenced, I was feeling mighty, mighty uncomfortable. Do people still do that, voice things over? Is that still even a thing?
But, then. Well. From thereon in this movie was simply a delight. Let me count the ways.
The protagonist, Bella (Jessica Brown Findlay, of Downton Abbey fame), an orphaned aspiring children’s writer, is delightfully OCD. Billy (Jeremy Irvine), her love interest and an inventor of mechanical animals, is delightfully dithering. Alfie (Tom Wilkinson), the old guy next door, is delightfully cantankerous. Vernon (Andrew Scott, last seen as ‘Moriarty’ in the BBC’s Sherlock), the Irish cook who is fired by Alfie and starts working for Bella, is delightfully caring. Bella’s boss, Miss Bramble (Anna Chancellor, ‘Ducky’ in Four Weddings and a Funeral many moons ago), is delightfully libraria-nish. I couldn’t help but like these characters, all of them.
They are characters in the extreme. Not exactly realistic – but who wants or expects that, right? This is the realm of the magical, the place where children’s books and stories grow like wildflowers. And, with that, there is a real Englishness to them, their eccentricities: you shouldn’t expect straight-talk from these types, and you certainly don’t get it. Their conversation takes unexpected turns, takes time to smell the roses, even if they are weeds.
We see the characters in focus and out of focus, in soft spring light. The message: look closely, then more closely. Things are not what they seem. Things change. Things can change.
Along the way there are sweet doses of other medicinal messages, like weather the storm, face your fears, take a stand on black pudding, and, of course, know your statute law.
The setting celebrates the domestic – the house, the garden, the tinned food, the flowers. It doesn’t matter what year it is, or what’s going on in the outside world. The whole world – well, a world – is right here: there. That a young woman and an old man would become, for a period, arch-enemies then best friends just over the sorry state of a back garden might seem unlikely, and maybe the plucky strings and tuned percussion have a bit to answer for there. But, somehow, watching this beautiful fantastic, quite enchanted, you just don’t care.