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Folk tales and history from the English shores

By Elizabeth Kerr | HK EDITION | Updated: 2021-03-19 16:31
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Come Away, directed by Brenda Chapman, written by Marissa Kate Goodhill. Starring David Oyelowo and Angelina Jolie. The UK, 95 minutes, IIA. Opens March 18. [PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY]

Make no mistake: despite their narrative shortcomings, both Brenda Chapman's Come Away and Andy Goddard's Six Minutes to Midnight are luscious, impeccably production-designed films. The Victorian and World War II-era visuals (respectively) are very nearly tangible, and go a long way in terms of realizing the time and space of the stories. So it would have been nice if the films' writers, Marissa Kate Goodhill and Eddie Izzard and Celyn Jones, had kept their endgames in clearer sight.

With family entertainment in short supply (Soul, Raya and the Last Dragon and a forthcoming Doraemon adventure are about it), Come Away is, essentially, a Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland origin story that fills a non-condescending gap.

In Victorian England, free-spirited Rose (Angelina Jolie) and Jack Littleton (David Oyelowo) live a charmed life in the idyllic countryside with their three intelligent, engaged children: Peter (Jordan Nash), Alice (Keira Chansa) and David (Reece Yates). If you guessed that because David doesn't ring a bell as a beloved kid-lit character there's tragedy afoot, you guessed right. After David dies in an accident, Rose and Jack sink into despair and the family faces ruin. Peter and Alice immerse themselves in an imaginative world of lost boys, mad hatters and Red Queens to cope with their own grief and guilt. The story's fundamental contrivance is rescued by strong performances (kids included) that have weight but aren't feverish.

Six Minutes to Midnight, directed by Andy Goddard, written by Eddie Izzard, Celyn Jones. Starring Eddie Izzard and Judi Dench. The UK, 100 minutes, IIA. Opens March 25. [PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY]

In their live action debut, Chapman and Goodhill have loaded the film with Easter eggs for fans of the classic books, but it remains very much a solemn affair, bathed in as much loss as fantasy. However, the film also flails around in its last act when Goodhill injects the story with extra, unnecessary, drama, sapping the gentle emotion out of an otherwise sweet portrait of family healing - one that champions inclusivity and gives children of mixed heritage something to connect to (though some will argue historical accuracy has been compromised in favor of representation).

In Six Minutes to Midnight, Thomas Miller (comedian Eddie Izzard) takes up a teaching post at the Augusta-Victoria College, Bexhill-on-Sea in August, 1939. Augusta-Victoria is a finishing school where the daughters of the German high command learn English and how best to represent Teutonic perfection under the watchful eye of headmistress Miss Rocholl (Judi Dench) and her assistant Ilse (Carla Juri). When Miller's predecessor washes up on the beach, the mystery of his death becomes a matter of national security and Miller turns out to be much more than a teacher.

The film pivots on a fascinating bit of British war history that's worth exploring. The notions of nationalism and identity have never been more timely (Meghan Markle may be curious).

Unfortunately, Goddard and co-writer Izzard can't decide whether they want to drive in thriller or drama mode, and the script only hints at the school's embedded politics - crucial in a spy yarn.

Goddard comes from television (Downton Abbey, Netflix's Marvel series, Torchwood) and his mastery of 45-minute, serialized pacing shows: Six Minutes hits beats it doesn't need to, and takes narrative turns that usually come in the sixth part of eight episodes, as a last, desperate stab at some excitement.

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