Review: Mumboss – Vicki Psarias (Honest Mum)

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I’m late writing about this. The reasons are many; some of them I can talk about (a flurry of minor family illness, busy work, social obligations) and others aren’t my story to tell so I will simply say… well… let’s go for personal drama. The effects have drained me of both time and mental availability, so I’m about 3 weeks later than I wanted to be to share my thoughts on this book, which was painstakingly and lovingly written by a friend of mine, Vicki of Honest Mum. (Yes, that Vicki.)

I wouldn’t usually mention this; why would anyone reading want to know this was supposed to be published on the 5th of May? Because the reality of having to deal with difficult patches is what’s at the heart of Vicki’s manifesto for modern motherhood. Honest Mum (the blog) was born out of maternity leave following a traumatic birth, and Mumboss doesn’t pull any punches on that. It might well be difficult yet rewarding reading for anyone who has found themselves in a similar position – the promise of light at the end of whichever tunnel you find yourself in.

Because, in spite of its many privileges and joys, all forms of motherhood seem to come with tunnels. In my case a blissfully easy home birth resolved into terrible breastfeeding troubles (and swift abandonment of it, with the attendant guilt), colic and – if I’m really frank – itchy periods of crushing boredom. For others it’s financial troubles, infant health problems, family difficulties, the dynamics of older brothers and sisters, multiple births, having to work more, having to work less, physical challenges, mental health challenges, exhaustion and sleep deprivation, isolation… the list could go on and on. And while absolutely not one iota of this means that you aren’t a good parent or don’t love your child, you’ll probably feel guilty about something, at some point, because someone else is doing it differently and you’re convinced that means they’re better.

This is where a book like this makes a real difference. Another mum – especially one who appears to thoroughly have her shit together – saying that motherhood turned her life upside down and not all of it was roses and sunshine, is a relief. And then to follow that with a rallying cry and practical tips designed to help mums grasp at opportunities – instead of sticks to beat themselves with – is a massively positive contribution to the conversation.

And look, I know what some of you might think reading this. Will you feel worse instead of motivated? Like you’re not doing enough? No, you won’t. Partly because there’s a whole section on dealing with the useless act of comparison and building confidence. But also because, having crowdsourced wisdom from many busy mums working in all sorts of environments and different ways, there will very likely be something in there that speaks to you where you are. Even if where you are right now is thinking about the next step rather than being ready to launch your big idea. The point is, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t. The message of Mumboss is simply that there’s every reason to believe you can do an amazing job.

On that note, there is something in particular that resonates through Mumboss that comes straight from Vicki and is one of my favourite things about her: she owns her success. There are scores of accomplishments listed here, and that is a really unusual thing to hear about women, let alone from them. If there’s one thing you’ll walk away from reading this with it’s permission to fully own what you’ve achieved, what you’ve worked for. If, like me, you’re a person who can wince writing a CV – a literal list of verifiable stuff that you’ve done – because it seems a bit self-aggrandising, it’s permission you are well overdue to receive. Try it. Say out loud “I am good at ______” (fill in the space, obvs). You might just find it tastes strange in your mouth, like a sour sweet, a little bit shocking but with a wonderful, tooth-melting afterglow. Women are conditioned not to brag, not to take up space, but what if it turns out that’s all nonsense? What if it turns out the only thing that happens if you raise your hand and say “I can” is that you get more of what you want?

This book has arrived some seven years after my last (and only) mat leave ended, but at a point in my life where there is a lot going on; in the past six months alone some significant family issues which came to a head literally on the day I changed jobs, to one that has raised new professional challenges and opportunities with all the gut-churning terror that comes with that. Also a small business idea I’ve been hesitantly fostering for 18 months now is nearer realisation. And I’ve managed to bang out 10,000-odd words of a new novel that I think I might actually want to read one day. It’s been, in short, an interesting time. It turns out just the thing I needed to read is a part-memoir, part-handbook to cover everything from imposter syndrome to managing my taxes. So it’s a damn good thing I know a very determined and passionate woman who’s written one, isn’t it?

And now you can too. Find Mumboss on Amazon now.

Disclaimer: I bought this book and thought about it my very self. I might just get Vicki to sign it, though. 

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Film review: Mary and the Witch’s Flower

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I have a confession to make. I have only seen one – count ’em! – Studio Ghibli film. It’s the one everyone has seen (no, not that one with the friendly cat Moomin, the other one with the pigs). And I liked it! Well, it scared me a little but that’s not necessarily a bad thing and I really enjoyed it. I would absolutely watch more. I will. I just… haven’t yet.

I begin with this so that you can understand I don’t carry any reverential baggage into a film like Mary and the Witch’s Flower, made by Studio Ponoc – which is largely people from Ghibli, making films, as I understand it, in the spirit of Ghibli. To put it another way, I watched it as though walking into a superhero sequel with no context, no trailers and a vague awareness that Stan Lee exists.

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In that vein, I know that there’s something of a tradition of fusing a Japanese take on animation and storytelling with classic British stories. In this case, Mary is an adaptation of The Little Broomstick, helmed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (When Marnie Was There, Arietty)It tells the story of bright, curious Mary (in the UK dub, Ruby Barnhill of The BFG), who arrives at her aunt’s rural house ahead of her parents and is a trapped, bored ball of energy as she explores the countryside waiting for excitement to happen. In her wanderings she comes across a pair of intriguing cats and their owner, Peter, who teases her about her wild, red hair. She also encounters the beautiful fly-by-night plant, and an old broom – and it’s when the two collide and the berries from the plant burst on the broom’s handle that she is literally thrown into an extraordinary other world. One which might just have a little more danger beneath the surface than she realises…

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Mary is a gorgeously hand-drawn charmer, which somehow marries an overall gentleness with enough unexpected twists and turns to keep the attention of viewers of all ages. If adults get a little itchy at Mary’s rather flat character development and the slightly stilted screenplay, they will still be cheering on the inside at having a bossy, headstrong girl in the main role. And indeed, this is a very female film. When Mary is whisked away to a magical school – to my eyes, what Albus Dumbledore might have created with Willy Wonka – it is formidable headmistress Madam Mumblechook (Kate Winslet) who stamps her presence in every corner and beguiles the young, accidental witch. And when Mumblechook’s bizarre and disturbing secret is revealed, the power to either save the day or allow certain destruction is held in both their hands – and it’s down to the strength of their characters to decide which will win out. In the meantime, Mary’s Great Aunt Charlotte provides a much-needed north star for the troubled child.

Despite touching on themes of loneliness, isolation and, er, animal and human experimentation, the pace, tone and style of Mary is such that children of virtually any age could and would be absorbed by it. Muramatsu Takatsugu (When Marnie Was There) provides a beautiful, stirring score, which harmonises with the striking visuals to give what could be a very simple story depth.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower is now on general release in the UK.

Disclosure: My thanks to DDR PR for the opportunity to see the film before release. All opinions are my own. 

A Wrinkle in Time: A film review with a difference

WhatsApp Image 2018-03-19 at 09.18.40(1)It’s not every day you have to say “no” to meeting Ava DuVernay.

Having a full-time day job means I do have to decline quite a few of the invitations I get, but this one really hurt. And I was honestly really excited about seeing the film. Luckily, I had the perfect stand-in up my sleeve: web series whizz, producer, actor and writer Rochelle Dancel, who attended a roundtable with Ava and A Wrinkle in Time’s lead actress, 14yo Storm Reid.

Rochelle was all set to guest post a film review here too, when another wonderful friend, blogging powerhouse Vicki of Honest Mum, asked me if I’d like to stand in for her husband at the premiere of the film, along with stylist Lauren Jobling and the highly motivating Lucy Hird. Um, YES? Best of all, we’d get to hear Ava and all the main cast (including ZOMG OPRAH) speak at a Q&A beforehand and I not-so-quietly died inside with happiness.

So this post, while containing a film review, is a little different. We’ll look at our thoughts going in, what we thought of the film itself, and what we learned from the cast and director – so if you’re just looking for film info, head for the middle bits. No spoilers.

A culture shift

RD: Admittedly, I was a little bit apprehensive about going to see this. I am clearly not the target audience, and I don’t have kids. So the lens I naturally had through which to watch this was borne from everything I’d read about it: strong female leads, directed by one of only a handful of women to have a $100m+ budget and, in the week I saw it, the first time two films helmed by African-American directors had the number 1 and 2 spots in the US box office (shoutout Black Panther). I think it’s very difficult not to consider this film in the current social and political climate, which I’m sure also had a part to play in the creative changes they made from the book e.g. the decision to create a blended family with adopted children from different ethnic backgrounds. But it all works. Regardless, I invite any grown-ups going to see it to leave all of that at the door, and bring their younger, teenage selves into the theatre.

AG: I’m pretty much fully in touch with my inner child – potentially more than my sensitive 7yo is. If I didn’t love L’Engle’s source material – and I’m afraid I didn’t – I put this down to being 30 years a little too old when I read it, but that hadn’t stopped me being really excited to see the film. I’ll come back to the Q&A I saw directly before in a moment, but what really framed the viewing for me was the DuVernay asked everyone in the audience aged 6-16 to stand up. And then told them specifically that this film was for them, and invited the rest of us to put ourselves in their shoes. Sometimes it can feel like saying “this was made for kids” is seen as negative – or it actively excludes adults from enjoying it – but I actually prefer for films to know who they’re for. For example, my daughter and I both enjoyed Inside Out at the time, but neither of us have wanted to watch it again since because the more we look back at it the less we know what it’s for; she found it a bit long-winded for kids, I found it a bit basic for adults.

A brief history of A Wrinkle in Time

Based on a much-loved children’s novel from Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time is the story of Meg Murry, whose parents are notable physicists – but whose ambitious work is greeted with incredulity when it seems to go too far. Meg’s father disappears in the course of his research, and for four years his family – Meg, her mother and her brother, Charles Wallace – know nothing of how or why, making Meg angry and closed off. Just as it looks as if she’ll have to accept he’s never coming back, a trio of outlandish guides show up to suggest there could still be hope of unravelling the mystery and saving the day – if Meg can only find the strength in herself.

A few of our favourite things

RD: My favourite thing about this film is that our lead character isn’t a superhero: she doesn’t have to transform to be anything superhuman to do anything over and above what she has previously perceived herself to be. She’s perfect exactly as she is, flaws and all, and I think that’s a major point of difference from other films that may be thrown into the same category, especially for young people.

AG: Yes! I would have killed for a female lead that was kind of nerdy when I was a kid. But even more for a girl who wears glasses and can’t see without them and doesn’t have to remove them to be ‘beautiful’. I know that’s very specific, but seriously. It’s so rare that the removal of glasses to reveal physical beauty has become a trope. Meg’s physical appearance is almost entirely irrelevant except in terms of her being asked to accept herself as she is.

I’m all for films making proud statements, and I found myself wanting to stand up and clap as one theme after another was teased out – from facing the realities of teen life, to family dynamics, adoption, siblinghood and accepting the fallibility of the most loving parent. But there were lots of other things about A Wrinkle in Time I enjoyed that were purely dramatic. I thought the pacing was perfect, and I’m a harsh judge of films that outstay their welcome. The central performances – especially Reid and Deric McCabe – were terrific. I can only imagine the skill it takes to coax such natural performances from young actors. It’s also just really beautiful to look at. In many ways it reminded me of Tomorrowland, with its audacious scope and proudly female tone.

RD: I also thought the young actors were amazing. At the roundtable, Ava described Deric McCabe as exuberant, and it truly is the perfect adjective for him. He is so fiercely committed to his character, and I am very much looking forward to seeing what he does in future. Of her lead actress, Ava said, “Storm Reid is one of the most deeply feeling actors I’ve ever worked with of any age – I compare here with David Oyelowo who played Dr King in Selma in terms of the depth of the way that she feels about her characters.” I was immediately struck by the respect that Ava has for her young actors, and she went on to say that, as the director, she made sure that they knew they could try anything, and that she would be there to catch them. I think this reassurance shows in the final film: intuitive, confident and beautiful performances all around.

AG: I have to acknowledge a couple of avoidable issues. One was chunks of surprisingly clunky dialogue – not at all what you usually get from a film co-written by Jennifer Lee (Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph), and it meant Mindy Kaling in particular suffered from not enough to do. My main familiarity with DuVernay’s other work is 13th, a documentary, so I’m not sure if it’s her usual feature-film style to get quite so vertiginous. I did see the film in IMAX, but I found the regular extreme close ups slightly queasy, and sometimes the technique seemed to undermine the intimacy instead of underscore it.

RD: I enjoyed the concept of the Mrs characters; they’re like a squad of fairy godmothers with whom you don’t always agree or understand, but will come through for you in the end. I didn’t find them entirely cohesive though. Reese Witherspoon was perfect: Elle Woods, having had a career change, in an alternate universe. I really wish that Oprah had had more screen time; she’s always very reassuring, and both the actress and character did serve to ground the film in the little time she was there. Unfortunately, although I am a huge Mindy Kaling fan, I found that the majority of her dialogue – interjected quotes a la inspirational Instagram feed – made it really difficult to see her beyond two dimensions or connect her to the journey of the main characters.

AG: On a parenting note, I’d add that, while the themes are probably most strongly resonant for the middle of the 6-16 group, it’s pretty friendly to the whole age range. I talk a lot about my daughter being a gentle soulThe Jungle Book was too much for her – but she’s super excited to see Wrinkle and so far my judgement is that she’ll be completely fine with it. The scariest bit is mostly implied (unless you have a phobia of trees or branches) and she’ll probably miss some of the nuance there until she’s older anyway.

Hearing from the filmmakers

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RD: As I’ve worked with young actors, which means I’ve met many parents, I asked Reid what her advice would be to parents whose kids wanted to get into acting, and I was totally floored by the maturity and insight of this response: “I think that if I were to tell parents – well, you’re not supposed to tell parents anything because you’re supposed to respect them – but I would just say that, if your kid wants to do it, let them do it, and as long as they are having fun and they are enjoying it, they should be doing it, and if they’re doing the right things at home and being good people then you should let them do it. If your kid doesn’t have the same interests as you, then I don’t think that you should force your kid into something because that’s when they become resentful or that’s not when they want to put 150% into something – and not only just acting.”

AG: Storm Reid. STORM REID. She was so immensely poised at the Q&A, talking about the reality of having to find strength inside yourself as a girl or woman in this world, and especially as a girl or woman of colour. Between that and Oprah’s rallying cry to look for the positives – the uprisings, the revolutions – in every difficult and painful piece of political news, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. DuVernay also took the time to call out to the men in the room and ask them to stand up if they’re good allies; you see that figure reflected in the character of Calvin, a model for how to fight for someone else and for change even when it looks like you’re holding all the cards (and it takes time to show that all might not be as it seems).

RD: So to sum up: the film isn’t perfect. It is flawed. But in the same way that Mrs. Whatsit gifts Meg her faults, I think the film’s flaws serve to highlight the film’s strengths: courage, strength and beauty – enough of each to love it exactly as it is.

AG: That’s such a perfect summary, I’m leaving it right there. 

 

A Wrinkle in Time is out in UK cinemas from 23rd March. Thank you to Disney UK for the opportunity to send Rochelle to the roundtable and a screening, and to Honest Mum and Disney UK for the chance to attend the European premiere and Q&A. All thoughts and opinions our own (apart from where we’re quoting others, obviously…).

Why the most important character in Lady Bird wasn’t Lady Bird.

152114145-53734699-17a8-476a-b35c-ad5c955869bc(Contains spoilers if you haven’t yet seen Lady Bird. Though you should get on with it now.)

Some of us are born Julies.

The story isn’t often about us – and when it is, or at least when we get a chunk of the story, it’s usually not a Julie telling it and then they get it all wrong.

Julies are so often about what they lack. They’re so often about a lack of popularity, attention or time in the sun. They’re about not fitting in the dress or not being asked or being cast aside. They’re about being the odd one out the bad way – not as a charming loudmouth but as a charmless lump.

And, yes… Julie is cast aside in Lady Bird. But the delicate, nuanced way in which it is written makes it quite clear that the dumping is not, actually, about her. She’s not embarrassing. She’s hasn’t committed some awful faux pas or simply committed the crime of existing in a less fashionable figure. In fact it’s not really about her at all; Lady Bird just has some stuff to figure out, and she sees an opportunity to try being popular, and Julie – briefly – pays the price. But it is Lady Bird who learns the lesson (and, delightfully, it’s not at the cost of the humanity of the popular girl, either, who  is- as it turns out – both straightforward and, in her own way, quite sweet. And on another day maybe we’ll tackle the faceless popular girls, who usually only get to be the objects of the story, and not the story themselves. But for now, Julie’s getting her due).

Julies usually have a crying scene. But far too often it’s about male rejection or body hatred or bitterness. This Julie rightly cries because of something that actually matters: ill treatment at the hands of her friend. And this Julie rightly has her happy, interesting ending – she is the first of the two to have an opportunity to spread her wings offered to her. She might not be the one the camera follows out of town, but Julie has her own rich and complex family dynamic, and she’s off to try to make sense of it.

When I was a teenager, I’d have given anything for a Julie in a popular film, or on TV. Girls like me – a little bigger, louder, weirder than the others – were punchline or a cautionary tale. Julie’s only moment of being a joke, when she’s allowed a little dash of quiet devastation at her handsome teacher’s stunning, pregnant wife, is universal enough that anyone could have had it – crushing on a teacher (and realising they have a real, non-school life) is hardly a niche fat girl phenomenon.

Julie isn’t a frump or a fool; she is perhaps one of nature’s supporting players, but the support is genuine and loving and powerful. Maybe the films will always be about the Lady Birds but they won’t be good films without the Julies. In a film with so many ways of looking at the complexity of female relationships, Julie comes second only to Lady Bird’s mother in her importance – and that will remain true even if, as implied, they eventually go their separate ways and grow apart.

There have been times when, if I’m honest, I resented being a Julie. But it was always times when other people pushed me into the tired odd-bod narratives. Like that English teacher who gave us permanent roles for the whole term in As You Like It and made sure that our Jenna was Phoebe, our Lady Bird was Rosalind and our Danny, Jacques … while our Julie (me) got both Dukes (as if one wasn’t dull enough).  A small thing, but small-minded – and those are the things that grow petty burrs and stick in the brain until you look up and realise 20 years have passed. But I have been fortunate to know and love both other Julies and many Lady Birds (sadly, I’ve also definitely known at least one Kyle). When we cast each other in roles we do it with generosity and admiration. Which is exactly why a female creator was the only one who could really shape a Julie that spoke to me (even if I suspect she was never much of a Julie herself).

When my daughter – very possibly a future Julie – reaches a certain age, I will sit her in front of Lady Bird. It will be too soon for her to understand the mother-daughter story, even though she’ll think she understands it, but I can wait for that to make sense some time in the future. I’ll give her the gift of Julie, and the chance to see if not someone like her (who knows? She might yet be Jenna) then someone like me, fully realised and fully acceptable.

For what a gift it has been – even belatedly – to me.

My 2018 Word of the Year

2017 has been… a good year for comedy. Politically, whatever point on the spectrum of opinion you occupy, you’ve probably felt aggrieved. Being in a country that doesn’t know where it’s going or why it’s going there but by God it’ll go there with conviction isn’t necessarily the most inspiring context to live in, but I recognise it takes a massive level of luck to even be concerned with any sort of personal growth. But, you know, you’re on a blog not a news channel, on a post entirely about self-actualisation, so you kind of asked for some self-centered pontificating.

Looking back at my previous words of the year, many of them were about mindset – about thought, rather than action. And that makes sense – action takes practice, and thinking makes it possible. I may or may not be able to accurately attribute actions I took to fostering those mindsets, but I do it anyway. For example:

2013: Decisiveness > changed jobs, deciding that yes, frankly, I could work for an agency and be good at it (spoiler alert: I could indeed).

2014: Creativity > started sharing my probably terrible but heartfelt art in public (the results of this are still working themselves out in various projects and exciting ideas)

2015: Asking > a small mountain of small asks that altogether allowed me to accept taking up space in the world.

2016: Value > I think I might have seen more of the results of this in 2017 than 2016, especially when combined with…

2017: Chance > packed in a level of security to go for a fast-paced job in a sector I’d never worked in, leading people who are very likely smarter than me.

Of these, only ‘asking’ is an action – the rest are much more ambiguous; deliberately so, as I wasn’t interested in narrowing my field of vision. But I do have a slight problem with focus. I’ve often wondered if my love of the V&A is down to operating like a series of Victorian fads all on my own; I develop crazes and obsessions, start a project… and then leave it foundering. In contrast to my paid, out-of-home work, where I tend to be dogged, I pick up and drop personal projects, leaving a bog of abandoned hopes behind me. A large portion of this is fear – it’s no coincidence that many things get shelved just as I’m required to take the next steps to make them fly. And a chunk of it is being tired, lazy or distracted: by ongoing health problems I need to argue with my doctor about (if it looks like a thyroid issue, hurts like a thyroid issue but you won’t properly test for a thyroid issue, does anyone hear the tree falling?), by bills to be paid (£420 to remove four of the cat’s teeth?!), by raising the most wonderful child (who can also be a PITA on the regular), by taking the leap to change jobs (and living up to my own hype) or by horrible family illness (I can’t be flip about this one; just trust me that it’s terrible).

Still, I don’t want my word of the year to be about completing things, because I am nothing if not a contrary younger child. Tell me that I must and I will tell you that I won’t (yes, perfectly aware this is self-defeating; your point?). But knowing my own propensity to need to be inspired rather than chided, to seek carrot rather than stick, I wanted my word to suggest motivation and ongoing evolution rather than evoke the full stop: finish, complete, achieve.

I cycled through some of the more inspirational language, and quickly rejected it: blooming (sounds like acne), blossoming (yech), flying (nope).

And then it hit me. How about just… Do? It suggests the completeness of an action while including the possibility of onward motion. And it allows a level of impulsiveness that gives me permission to break down the walls in my head that suggest no, shouldn’t, couldn’t, too old, not good enough, why. I’ve already booked another stay at the best place in the world to help keep me on track but also do is for every day; I can’t fall into my pattern of thinking I’ll do that when I have time to or when I’m fitter or when I’m good enough.

Yesterday, I stumbled across this wonderful piece from Roxane Gay about following dreams at any age. It spoke to me on every level, and I knew more than ever that I couldn’t keep shying away from doing the work. I have stepped up in other areas of my life – become a more assured mother, asked for and got the job and the pay rise, complimented myself and my abilities when it’s warranted, worn the obnoxious lipstick and taken time out for myself without (too much) guilt. So at this point I have to ask myself: can a lack of confidence, a fear of failure and a dollop of pure laziness ever be worth the cost of not pursuing what brings me joy and satisfaction?

Of course not. So I’ve done the thinking… and now it’s time for doing.

Beautifully simple, and simply beautiful.

Happy New Year.

Four minute film review: The Florida Project

It’s taken me weeks of thinking about The Florida Project to even consider trying to write this in four minutes. But if I gave myself longer, I might never stop.

Named after the code for what would become Walt Disney World, The Florida Project takes place in the shadow of Cinderella Castle, centering on a young mother and daughter living a transient motel room life worlds apart from the glossy, expensive vacation kingdom up the road. An astonishing performance from Brooklynn Prince sends us into the story through the eyes of a child – a foul-mouthed, whip-smart, fascinating child, in turn worlds apart from the usual syrupy fare Hollywood dishes up. Her outstanding chemistry with influencer-turned-actress Bria Vinaite, who is utterly compelling, is the beating heart of the film.  Yet possibly the smartest trick The Florida Project pulls is dressing up an incredibly tight structure in the loose garments of what is so well written it all sounds like improvisation. No setup is wasted, no lines are indulgent, no performance is over or undersold; everything feeds back into the whirlwind. It’s a queasy dervish that draws you in with such lightness that – even though the breadcrumbs are there all along – you don’t quite realise how comprehensively it’s breaking your heart until the final moments.  Absolutely one of the best things you’ll see this year.

Film review: Paddington 2

Quad_Fairground_AW_[32622] Paddington 2

I’ll dollop on marmalade analogy early: this film is deliciously sweet, but with a gently tart edge, and if there were a cinematic equivalent of comfort food this would be it. But it would be unreasonably twee to spread it on too thick, given this is a film that wears charm on its sleeve, but never becomes sickly.

Once again voiced by the wonderful Ben Whishaw, Paddington is on a mission to buy a thoughtful birthday present – a unique book about London – for his Aunt Lucy (the voice of Imelda Staunton). This first requires getting a job (no mean feat for the delightfully naive little soul who seems to be a magnet for accidental trouble) but things take a turn for a elaborately worse when a thief gets his hands on the precious book and disappears in a puff of smoke – leaving Paddington to get the blame and the Brown family with the task of putting the clues together and clearing his name.

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Hugh Grant dominates a stellar cast in what is probably his finest, and certainly most hilarious, role. He spares no flourish for a barnstorming performance as ageing showman – and master of disguise – Phoenix Buchanan, who is busily switching accents and wigs as he plots to get his hands on a hidden treasure that could radically change his fortunes now he’s reduced to dog food ads and local appearances. The bulk of the remaining laughs come from Brendan Gleeson’s menacing prison inmate, who forms an unlikely alliance with our fluffy friend while they’re both behind bars. It’s testament to the quality of the film that it’s packed with big names and brief cameos  – no monstrous egos on show besides Buchanan’s.

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Everything is just so perfectly judged, with a brilliant blend of slapstick humour – largely piled on the unfortunate head of Tom Conti’s grumpy judge – and witty asides mixed in with lots of loveliness as the residents of Windsor Gardens come to realise how much better life is with a marmalade-loving bear in the mix. Paul King and Simon Farnaby don’t spare the undertone, with a showdown between Henry Brown (Hugh Bonneville) and mean-spirited NIMBY-ite jobsworth Mr. Curry (Peter Capaldi) about welcoming in strangers providing a little bit of a bite for the adults in the audience.

With the world as it is right now, this is the charming, open-hearted comedy audiences of all ages need to see and be soothed by – one where we can believe that with enough faith in the power of human goodness, all can be made right.

Paddington 2 goes on general release from November 10th.

Parents’ note: my rather sensitive 7yo really enjoyed this – a few belly laughs and she was genuinely moved at moments. It’s the kind of thing that tends to sweep kids of all ages along with it, but there’s nothing to alarm the youngest or more sensitive souls.

Tickets were kindly provided by ThinkJam PR on behalf of the production for us to see the film. Opinions are entirely my own, as ever. If you’ve seen the film or want to find out more, join Paddington on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram