From Time to Time: Ghosts, Time Travel and British Propriety

Film Review: From Time to Time (2009)

From Time to Time is a Julian Fellowes’ film. It’s also a children’s fantasy drama from 2009, starring Alex Etel, Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Dominic West, Douglas Booth, Timothy Spall and Pauline Collins, among others. Based upon a children’s book by Lucy M. Boston, The Chimneys of Green Knowe (1958) – which I have not read, so I cannot comment on the accuracy of the film adaptation – From Time to Time is the story of a boy who is shipped off to his estranged grandmother’s manor house, a house called Green Knowe, an old, old house with many ghosts and many family secrets.

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Green Knowe 1944

13-year-old Tolly Oldknow (Alex Etel) arrives in the winter of 1944 at Green Knowe, the ancestral home of the Oldknows, to live for a time with his grandmother, Mrs. Oldknow (Maggie Smith). His father, David, is missing in action. And his mother has sent him to his paternal grandmother’s, while she searches for answers to David’s fate in London.

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Tolly does not know his grandmother, nor she him. A rift generated by David’s marriage to a woman considered below his status by his proud mother, Mrs. Oldknow, has fostered resentment on all sides. And yet, here, in the winter of 1944, David’s son has returned to Green Knowe, to the Oldknow family, and perhaps it is time for some mending.

Photo: Ealing Studios

Mrs. Oldknow begins to tell Tolly stories, family stories, weaving a familial tapestry around this boy, who is feeling so very adrift and lost and unsure. And as the stories unfold, the characters in them begin to come to life. Previous occupants of Green Knowe appear as ghosts, or is it Tolly, who is the shade? The house – quite willy-nilly and with no rhyme or reason – begins shifting between present-day 1944 and the early 19th century, during the height of the Napoleonic Wars, when Captain Thomas Oldknow (Hugh Bonneville) is master of the house. One minute Tolly is exploring the house, opening a doorway, and the next he is a ghost in the 19th century, sensed initially only by his blind ancestor, Susan (Eliza Bennett), daughter of the captain.

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Regency Green Knowe

Photo: Ealing Studios

There is high drama in this earlier setting. The captain has married a vain and beautiful woman (Carice van Houten), who cares more about her social-climbing aspirations and her jewels than her children. Their eldest son, Sefton (Douglas Booth), is equally beautiful and vain and cruel. It’s a cruelty nurtured by an avaricious manservant (Dominic West), who gets a little bit too commanding during the master’s frequent war-induced absences. And then there is the blind Susan. She’s the apple of her father’s eye and the shame of her mother, whose special aide, a former slave Jacob (Kwayedza Kureya), who was rescued by the captain, causes much consternation amongst the haughtier members of the family.

Sound deliciously familiar? Yes, yes, there are certainly thematic links to Fellowes’ Downton Abbey. I won’t go into all the plot points, but there is an unexplained fire in the 19th century and never-found stolen jewels – a mystery that perhaps a 20th-century boy can get to the bottom of, and, in doing so, save a cash-strapped Green Knowe of 1944. Perhaps. And perhaps there is more between heaven and earth, than our current philosophies allow, to misquote Shakespeare, and missing fathers, yeah, perhaps they are with us always.

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Well Worth a Watch

From Time to Time is a rather lovely film, a beautifully filmed, well-acted, engaging story. It suffers from some editorial choppiness at times, but that’s easily forgiven. The story has a poignancy to it that is very heartwarming and emotionally fulfilling. A few tears will fall, at least they did for me. Dame Maggie Smith is such a powerful screen presence – is she ever not?! It is well worth a watch.

RELATED: Doctor Thorne (2016) – Julian Fellowes’ New Period Drama Miniseries

Where to Watch: Amazon Video, DVD.

Content Note: Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some moments of children in peril.

OVERALL RATING

three and a half corset rating

“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful

friendship.”

Jessica Jørgensen

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

A lover of words, stories and storytellers since her youth and just plain curious by nature, Jessica embarked on a very long academic journey that took her across a continent (from Canada's west coast to its east) and even to the other side of the globe, where she currently lives an expat existence in Denmark. She now trails many fancy initials behind her name, if she ever cares to use them, and continues to be ever so curious. She's a folklorist, a mother, a wife, a middle child, a small town girl, a beekeeper, an occasional quilter, a jam-maker. She curates museum exhibits, gets involved in many cultural projects for this and that, collects oral histories when she can find the time and continues to love stories in all their many and varied forms. The local librarians all know her by name.

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