THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"FROM TIME TO TIME"
From Time to Time tells the story of Tolly Oldknow (Alex Etel), a 13 year-old boy whose father has gone missing during WWII. He is sent to spend Christmas with his grandmother (Maggie Smith) in the family mansion. She regales him with stories about the historic home, and before long, Tolly is seeing ghosts. Whenever he encounters one, he is magically transported back to 1805, where he witnesses ancestors engaged in the series of dramas that eventually led to part of the mansion burning down. Captain Oldknow (Hugh Bonneville) brings a young black boy named Jacob (Kwayedza Kureya), whom he helped free from slavery, home as a companion for his blind daughter Susan (Eliza Bennett). This occurs to the consternation of his image-conscious wife Maria (Carice van Houten) and aggressive son Sefton (Douglas Booth). As drama begins escalating around the house, the duplicitous housemaster Caxton (Dominic West) sees his opportunity to cause trouble. As Tolly follows the exploits of his ancestors, he begins to uncover clues about a long-unsolved family mystery involving stolen jewelry.
Based on the novel “The Chimneys of Green Knowe” by Lucy Boston, From Time to Time benefits from good performances. Smith, Bonneville, and West, in particular, do fine work creating their characters. Writer/director Julian Fellowes (who won an Oscar for Gosford Park) crafts a few really compelling individual scenes, such as a sequence in which Sefton forces Jacob to perform the dangerous chore of climbing the chimney. A climactic escape from the burning mansion is also quite exciting. Some of the story's themes resonate as well, racism and betrayal being chief among them. The script never beats you over the head with them, instead letting them simply sink in.
In spite of these good things, the movie never quite becomes as dramatically potent as it ought to be, due to poor structure. Grandmother Oldknow is largely just an exposition machine; she provides crucial pieces of information to Tolly, who then goes and has a time-travel experience directly related to whatever she's just told him. This happens again and again. I felt like I could always see the wheels turning in this film. Nothing feels natural or organic. When you can see those wheels turning, it becomes difficult to become fully absorbed. Movies are supposed to whisk you away, to make you get lost in their stories. I never got lost in From Time to Time because I was continually aware of the pieces being assembled before me.
From Time to Time is available now on DVD and VOD, as well as via digital download. Depending on what you want from it, the film could either be worth a rental or be a pass. If you want to see some fine British actors and don't care that the story is low-key, you might find some pleasures here. But if you're looking to really be absorbed in a time-travel mystery, it doesn't quite deliver the goods.
( 1/2 out of four)
From Time to Time is rated PG for mild thematic elements and peril. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.
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