Film review: Come Away

Angelina Jolie and David Oyelowo in Come Away
Damon Smith

COME AWAY (PG, 94 mins) Drama/Fantasy/Romance. David Oyelowo, Angelina Jolie, Jordan A Nash, Keira Chansa, Reece Yates, Anna Chancellor, David Gyasi, Clarke Peters, Jenny Galloway, Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Director: Brenda Chapman

DON'T let life drag you down. Just keep floating above it. Those poetic and fanciful words of wisdom, imparted by a father to his son in the aftermath of tragedy, are fitfully heeded by director Brenda Chapman and screenwriter Marissa Kate Goodhill in this fantastical coming-of-age story, which melds elements of Alice's Adventures In Wonderland and Peter And Wendy.

Characters and imagery from Lewis Carroll and JM Barrie's novels, published almost 50 years apart, soften narrative blows of bereavement, abandonment and abuse which are woven into a tonally uneven script that imagines a sibling bond between the children who inspired the books.

In Come Away, Peter and Alice are the adorable products of progressive 19th-century parents David Oyelowo and Angelina Jolie, who advocate children running wild in fields and conjuring the imaginary worlds of Neverland and Wonderland.

Totems from the literary classics are scattered liberally throughout a freewheeling plot: a chirruping pawnbroker (Clarke Peters) who is as mad as a hatter, a mother's gift of a tiny silver bell made by the local tinker, an older brother poised to leave for school telling his sister, “I'll leave my shadow behind”.

Miniature model ship craftsman Jack Littleton (Oyelowo) and his wife Rose (Jolie) live in the countryside on the outskirts of London with their three children, David (Reece Yates), Peter (Jordan A Nash) and Alice (Keira Chansa).

It's a bucolic idyll replete with a bustling housemaid (Jenny Galloway), where the siblings' imaginations are fuelled by stories of fairies and high seas adventure recounted by the wide-eyed parents.

A soothing air of childhood innocence blows icy cold when David drowns by accident in a lake. Rose seeks refuge in alcohol, denying her remaining offspring the attention and bedtime stories they crave, while Jack struggles with a gambling addiction that racked up crippling debts to his brother James (David Gyasi).

Peter (Jordan A Nash) blames himself for the tragedy and vows to improve his academic grades.

Meanwhile, wealthy aunt Eleanor (Anna Chancellor) offers to cure the family's financial woes by raising Alice under her own roof so the girl might lose some of the disgusting “habits of the lower class” like biting her nails.

Recounted in flashback by adult Alice (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Come Away struggles to find a pleasing balance between reality and fantasy. The script's tug of war pulls hardest for the former.

Oyelowo and Jolie catalyse lukewarm screen chemistry so when the Littleton clan fractures under the weight of grief, our emotional tethers to the characters quickly come loose.

Younger actors are well cast and tread a fine line between winsome and wounded as their pint-sized adventurers reject the transition to adulthood, when heads are filled “with neck ties… and taxidermies.”

Curiouser and curiouser.

RATING: 5/10

Released: December 18 (UK & Ireland)

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