Film review: From Time to Time (2009), directed by Julian Fellowes
If this costume drama feels familiar, it’s because it’s a mixture of a lot of familiar stories. You’ve got elements of Narnia (WW2), Tom’s Midnight Garden (time travel), Wuthering Heights (stray boy the finder’s son hates), The Secret Garden (magic), Jane Eyre (house fire), Cluedo (“the butler did it”) and I don’t know what else, sprinkled with a liberal helping of Downton Abbey actors. All wrapped upsibling in a cozy blanket of period drama for and about children, based on Lucy M. Boston’s 1958 novel The Chimneys of Green Knowe.
World War II is raging, and young Tolly (Alex Etel) goes to live with his grandmother (or something like that), Mrs. Oldknow (Maggie Smith) in a big house in the country. He’s worried about his father, away in the war, but with the stories told by Mrs. Oldknow, he soon comes out of his shell.
One night, he sees a girl and a servant, but … they’re not there. Is the house haunted? As it happens, it appears Tolly can jump through time, back to the Regency days, when the house was occupied by Captain Oldknow (Hugh Bonneville) with family. The captain’s wife Maria (Carice van Houten) is Dutch, and finds her new country uninviting and strange, especially since her husband is gone a lot of the time.
When returning from one of these travels, the Captain has brought with him a young, black man called Jacob (Kwayedza Kureya), who is an escaped slave. Being a surprisingly kind military man for the time, the Captain brings him home to be his blind daughter Susan’s (Eliza Hope Bennett) companion.
Susan is delighted to have a friend who can be her eyes and read to her (and climb trees, shush, don’t tell anyone!), but her older brother Sefton (Douglas Booth, Pip from the recent BBC adaptation of Great Expectations) is less amused. Who does that foreign slave boy think he is?! (And whyyyy won’t father loooove [whiny, spoiled, godawful] meeeee?) Let’s abuse him when I think no one’s looking! (Unlike in Wuthering Heights, though, Sefton actually gets in trouble. And Jacob would never strangle a puppy, for that matter.)
Also starring Pauline Collins as Mrs. Tweedle, Dominic West as Caxton, Timothy Spall as Boggis in the 1940s, and Allen Leech as his ancestor Fred Boggis in the 1800s. Who’s Allen Leech? Why, none but the strapping Irish chauffeur Tom Branson of Downton Abbey, of course!
So yes, Tolly can jump from his time back into the early 1800s or late 1700s, and there, he can only be seen/noticed by Susan, Jacob, and Fred Boggis. He learns more about the history of his family’s estate (which is under threat of needing to be sold due to lack of money) and his ancestors.
From Time to Time, which I came across on TV over the Christmas period, said something about “period drama”, so the Squeeze recorded it for me. I really enjoyed it. Then again, with Maggie Smith and a script written and directed by Julian Fellowes, it’s hard not to. The characters are sympathetic, aside from those whose sole purpose it is to be unsympathetic, and likeable, and it’s a touching story with a little bit of magic which feels perfectly suited for the Christmas period, somehow.
It’s sweet, it’s well acted, and it’s surprisingly unheard of, which is a great shame. It’s not the most brilliant thing ever, perhaps, but it has oodles of charm and appeal – and Hugh Bonneville in a cravat.
4 out of 5 Christmas trees.