CAPSULE: This is a kind of ghost story, but it is not a scare-fest. It is a reserved but compelling adventure involving ghosts and time travel as a World War II era boy finds his family's mansion is a gateway to a mysterious past that holds family secrets. It was written and directed by Julian Fellowes, who won an Academy Award for his writing of GOSFORD PARK. The accent is on characters and telling a good story and not on blood. For me the icing on the cake was to discover that Ealing Studios made it. That is a revival of the legendary British production company of the 1940s and 1950s. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Well, the first unexpected touch of the film is in the opening banners. It said "Ealing Studios". That came as a very pleasant surprise. Ealing Studios turned out some of the best British films in the 1940s and 1950s. DEAD OF NIGHT was from Ealing. The Ealing comedies were legendary and many of them featured a young Alec Guinness including KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT, THE LAVENDER HILL MOB, and THE LADY KILLERS. I had thought that the last Ealing films came out in 1959. Apparently that was true for more than four decades. The IMDB tells me that that same production company was revived in 2002. I had enjoyed their BURKE AND HARE (2010) without ever realizing that was an Ealing film. Ealing studios seems like a visitor from another time, which makes it particularly appropriate that I noticed their return with the film FROM TIME TO TIME.
And with FROM TIME TO TIME it is more than the production company that brings up happy memories. This is very much an old-fashioned ghost story with a bit of time travel thrown into the mix as well. It is no gory scare-fest. The accent is more on fantasy than it is on horror. The story is based on a novel by Lucy M. Boston, but Julian Fellowes adapted the novel to a screenplay and then directed it. Fellowes understands the British country house living of past eras. He scripted GOSFORD PARK and with its meticulous attention to period class structure detail and received an Academy Award for his writing. Here he has only a light touch of horror. The point of the film is story telling with good characters. And there even is some interesting metaphysical speculation as to what ghosts may actually be and even a bit of time travel paradox.
With an opening reminiscent of THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE, we are in December 1944 with Tolly (played by Alex Etel of MILLIONS), around fourteen years old, going to the country to visit his grandmother, Mrs. Oldknow (Maggie Smith of THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE) who lives in the family's large ancestral home, Green Knowe. The mansion itself becomes a character, the height of early 19th century splendor, but now dark and dusty and soon to be sold as no longer maintainable by the family. It is still tended by caretaker Boggis (great character actor Timothy Spall), the last of generations of Boggis family caretakers for Green Knowe. There is an uneasy relationship between Tolly and Mrs. Oldknow at first. Tolly is wound up in worrying about his father, missing in the war. Tolly is convinced he will see his father again. Things take a decidedly different turn when Tolly starts seeing translucent images of people who lived in the mansion from the early 1800s. He thinks of them as ghosts and his grandmother believes them to be ghosts also. But they seem to be in a world that links the mansion as it is in 1944 and the way it was in 1805. And Tolly becomes involved in some unpleasant doings in his family back then. There are one or two mildly scary scenes with ghosts, but this is not a shock'em sort of ghost story but instead an adventure across time as Tolly tries to help resolve some injustices of the past.
The cast is well-supported with Smith and Spall. Also present is as the WWII-era maid is Pauline Collins, who in the 1970s played downstairs maid Sarah on BBC's "Upstairs, Downstairs". She might have been a touch typecast, but it is a role she knows well. Hugh Bonneville of "Downton Abbey" does a nice turn as the sympathetic father of the 1805 family. FROM TIME TO TIME is a reminder of how enchanting a fantasy can still be if not taking over by digital imagery and if it has a few interesting characters and a few nice touches of plotting. I rate it a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. FROM TIME TO TIME has been playing at film festivals and has been recently released on DVD from Freestyle.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1031241/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/from-time-to-time/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper