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  Come Away The Playing's The Thing
Year: 2020
Director: Brenda Chapman
Stars: David Oyelowo, Angelina Jolie, Anna Chancellor, Keira Chansa, Jordan A. Nash, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Caine, Derek Jacobi, Clarke Peters, David Gyasi, Reece Yates, Jenny Galloway, Ned Dennehy, Daniel Swain, Nigel Plaskitt, Keith Chanter
Genre: Drama, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Alice (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is telling her children a bedtime story, one that is very close to her heart, about the time when she was a little girl (Keira Chansa) living in a house in the woods with her mother (Angelina Jolie) and father (David Oyelowo) and her two brothers, Peter (Jordan A. Nash) and David (Reece Yates). What she and her siblings most liked to do was play, and their imaginations were healthily exercised by their surroundings so that it seemed as if nothing would threaten their idyll. Father would build model boats to be sold to keep their heads above water financially, and though their aunt (Anna Chancellor) disapproved of Alice's free-spirited upbringing, the child loved it - until tragedy occurred.

Placing Alice of Wonderland fame and Peter Pan of Neverland fame together seems like such an obvious choice that it was surprising it had not been tried before in this fashion, where they were brother and sister. Maybe the fact they were written in different eras made authors not realise their potential for joining forces, yet you could argue the screenwriter here, Marissa Kate Goodhill, had not quite grasped how to fulfil the promise of what she had hit upon. They should have been two great tastes that tasted great together, to use advertising parlance, but in effect they tasted more or less the same together, despite being played by two obviously very capable child performers who could have done a lot more with the concept given half the chance.

The plot had David despatched with unseemly haste, leaving the family to grieve, so mother hits the bottle and father the gambling dens, where it turns out he has a major debt outstanding that some London nasties want him to pay back pronto. Meanwhile, Peter and Alice wish to help the best they can, so embracing the adventurousness of their alter egos when playing they venture out at night to pawn their brother's pocket watch amid the capital's lowlifes, who may be Dickensian or may be Edwardian, the exact time frame was rather more fluid than it should have been (Alice in the linking scenes does not appear to be in the nineteen-thirties, it had to be said). The production had not blown the whole budget on getting Angelina - who was looking stranger and more otherworldly with each passing year - so there were guest stars to reckon with as well.

Michael Caine appeared for a couple of scenes, and Derek Jacobi was in one too, amounting to around three minutes of screen time, if that; patently there to add prestige, but more likely to make their fans irritated they were not in it for longer. Another familiar face was Clarke Peters who played the pawnshop owner as The Mad Hatter, seemingly so they could include a few lines from Carroll (the White Rabbit was Alice's toy, now a puppet operated by Nigel Plaskitt, who older Brits would know as Hartley Hare from Pipkins). The elements were assuredly present for something quite provocative as far as a reimagining went, but what was it saying about escapism when it amounted less to entertainment and comfort, and more denial and sticking your head in the sand, ostrich-style? The manner in which Come Away see-sawed from reality to fantasy resulted in a lack of coherence, but at least it served up a tone that was eccentric enough to keep you watching, and director Brenda Chapman (an animator of Brave fame) had a nice historical sensibility even if that history was confused. A real oddity, but undeniably intriguing. Music by John Debney.

[Signature Entertainment presents Come Away in Cinemas from 18th December 2020.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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