Come Away

 

starHalf



The ghosts of Lewis Carroll and J.M. Barrie are evoked in a family film that is all over the 

place.

 
Come Away

Curiouser and curiouser: Keira Chansa and David Oyelowo

 

Now, listen carefully children. It doesn’t matter how dire your circumstances are, so long as you retain your gift of imagination. Mummy may be a secret drinker, Daddy an inveterate gambler, your aunt an insufferable snob and your uncle a major-league thief, as long as you cling to your propensity for make-believe, you’ll get by. Young Alice (Keira Chansa) and Peter (Jordan Nash) are saddled with such circumstances, but thanks to a literary diet of Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie and Charles Dickens are able to conjure up all sorts of magical distractions. There’s the pirate galleon on the nearby pond, the ethnically balanced Lost Boys in the woods and, when visiting London, they fall in with Fagin’s gang, an accommodating bunch of ragamuffins. But quite how Alice and Peter got to London is not explained. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

 

The Littleton family lives in a magnificent red-brick cottage with thatched roof, timber beams and live-in help. Jack Littleton (David Oyelowo) makes ends meet by crafting fanatically detailed model ships, so obviously it’s his wife, Rose (Angelina Jolie), with the money. Then, when tragedy strikes, Jack and Rose fall back on their vices (gambling, alcohol), so it’s up to the children to try and save the day…

 

Besides its dubious message, Come Away is fraught with missteps. The opening narration, impeccably whispered by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, is virtually inaudible as it competes with John Debney’s enthusiastic score (it’s not until one encounters something like Come Away that we appreciate the sonic mastery of most films). Likewise, the performances of the children (Keira Chansa, Jordan Nash and Reece Yates) don’t entirely ring true, although the camera adores them. The tone, too, is problematic. While Oyelowo and Jolie strive for a naturalistic tenor, others in the cast (stand up Clarke Peters) think it’s panto time.

 

For children well-versed in their classics, the literary allusions are everywhere. Sir Derek Jacobi, in an unexpected cameo, offers Jack some mock turtle soup, Rose and her sister Eleanor (Anna Chancellor) play chess and Jack’s debt collector (Ned Dennehy) is called Smee. These diversions aside, the film is actually terribly grim, which may explain the rescue attempts of Debney’s score (although Michael Caine’s customary, seated cameo, does raise a smile).

 

One should welcome a children’s film that attempts to do something different – but only if it works. And Come Away cannot have come cheap. Not only does it boast a starry cast, but was filmed across stages at Twickenham, Shepperton and Pinewood Studios, and has its share of special effects. Brenda Chapman made history when she became the first woman to win an Oscar for directing an animated feature, Brave (2012). Animation is obviously her forte.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: David Oyelowo, Anna Chancellor, Angelina Jolie, Keira Chansa, Jordan Nash, Reece Yates, David Gyasi, Clarke Peters, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ned Dennehy, Jenny Galloway, Derek Jacobi, Michael Caine, Rishi Kuppa, Alfie Hoang, Jack Veal, Nana Agyeman-Bediako, Daniel Swain, Roger Ashton-Griffiths.

 

Dir Brenda Chapman, Pro David Oyelowo, Leesa Kahn, Andrea Keir and James Spring, Ex Pro George Acogny, Steve Barnett, Timur Bekbosunov, Johnny Chang, Courtney Chenn, Pervez Delawalla, Simon Fawcett, David Haring, Jane Hooks, Alex Libovici, Emma Lee, Waylen Lin, Minglu Ma, Michelle Manning, Christian Mercuri, Gia Muresan, Steve Ponce and Peter Wong, Screenplay Marissa Kate Goodhill, Ph Jules O'Loughlin, Pro Des Luciana Arrighi, Ed Dody Dorn, Music John Debney, Costumes Louise Stjernsward, Sound Kyrsten Mate, Dialect coach Elizabeth Himelstein.

 

Endurance Media/Fred Films/Yoruba Saxon Productions-Signature Entertainment.

94 mins. 2020. UK/USA. Rel: 18 December 2020. Cert. PG.