From the soapy hand of director Julian Fellowes comes From Time to Time, a ghost-themed gift-wrapped package of UK-set Hollywood flavoured hokum that embodies tinsel town’s ability to homogenise a potentially unnerving storyline and transform it into a product marketable towards the broadest possible demographics: children and pensioners.
Appropriate, then, that alongside a child protagonist the film stars one of the film industry’s loveliest grandma-types, the dainty Maggie Smith, who would lend even a film about dunnies and overalls — Kenny (2006) comes to mind — an understated air of dignity.
From Time to Time tells the story of parentless 13-year-old Tolly (Alex Etel) who moves to his granny’s house (guess who plays her?) and unlocks the mystery of the dramatic past of his ancestors, a bunch of loaded pompous twats who stumbled upon disaster. A fire transpired at the family estate many years ago and around the same time jewels, silver and the rest of the family treasures went missing. Boo hoo.
It is a “ghost movie” in the sense that there are ghosts in it, but none of the threatening variety. There is a scene in Kubrick’s The Shining in which Jack Nicholson enters a ballroom and witnesses a party that transpired years ago. From Time to Time latches onto that idea — visualising the past concurrently with the present — for much of the running time. Tolly sees the past unfold in front and around him via ghostly hallucinations, and has the ability to communicate with two of the deceased, both children.
One of the kids is Susan (Eliza Hall Bennett), who is blind, and the other is a young black slave (Kwayedza Kureya) whose life is devoted to accompanying and protecting her. Their lives run parallell to Tolly’s and he learns more of their story and the stories of other deceased upper class English cardboard cut-out characters as the narrative progresses.
The crucial plot points are repeated visually and audibly and whacked across the viewers noggins so there is no chance one cannot understand the intended emotion, meaning and gravity of every event in the storyline. The performances are by and large badly over acted (Maggie Smith notwithstanding), the dramatic dialogue sometimes unintentionally LOL funny and Fellowes’s direction laboured and obtuse. Alan Almond’s over-lit cinematography burns the actor’s faces with fiery cranked-to-11 light bulbs.
From Time to Time is for children and old fogies, tailored for audiences looking for nuance-less dollops of gloop coloured with vague hints of mystery and imagination. On a simple entertainment level it will succeed with unfussy crowds, and in terms of crude mutliplex garbage it’s not the worst out there. But that, of course, is faint praise indeed.
From Time to Time’s Australian theatrical release date: June 2, 2011
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