The Ghosts of Green Knowe
Whilst many have gone mad for "Downton Abbey" it has never been my sort of thing but because of it I am well aware of the name Julian Fellowes and it was his name which lead me to watch "From Time to Time" as not only did he direct the movie but also adapted Lucy M. Boston's "The Chimneys of Green Knowe". Now "From Time to Time" is one of those ghost stories where a child explores an old building, sees dead people and unravels a mystery from the past but it also has a touch of time travel about it as the young protagonist also finds himself back in the past where only some people see him. It means that on some levels "From Time to Time" is a familiar sort of movie but also one which thanks to a good cast which includes Maggie Smith and Timothy Spall as well as some good story telling is quite charming.
As the war comes to an end young Tolly Oldknow (Alex Etel - The Water Horse) is sent to live with Grandma Oldknow (Maggie Smith - Keeping Mum) at the family home Green Knowe whilst his mother tries to find out what has happened to his father who is missing in action. Soon Tolly discovers that Green Knowe is a house of mystery when his Grandmother tells him all about his long gone relatives and how one of the wings of the house burned down. But Tolly also discovers that the house is magical as he finds himself coming face to face with ghosts and also being transported back to their time allowing him to solve some of the house's old mysteries.
So this is by no means me disrespecting either Lucy M. Boston or Julian Fellowes but as already mentioned there are numerous other movies which are built about a child, an old house and its ghostly inhabitants. It makes "From Time to Time" very familiar as Tolly learns about a mystery of some stolen jewels and a fire and finds himself interacting with the people of that time both as ghosts as well as sporadically being transported to this other time. The knock on effect of this familiarity is that you can pretty much guess how certain things are going to end up and there are plenty of unsubtle clues along the way, although there are a couple of reasonable twists as well.
But despite being familiar "From Time to Time" is also charming because the story telling is first rate, using the wintry setting of December 1944 as the basis but flitting back to a sunnier past. In the present you have the wonderful performances of Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall and Pauline Collins who feed Tolly information about the past with an air of mystery about both the stories and them. And then in the past you have the acting of Eliza Bennett, Dominic West and Hugh Bonneville, amongst many, who bring these stories of the past to life for Tolly to experience first hand. It means that you end up mesmerised despite that feeling of knowing how things will play out.
Having said that "From Time to Time" is by no means perfect and an over indulgent use of soft focus is one of the movies more annoying aspects. Although having said that a scene where a group of people burst out in song when a building is burning is simply wrong. And then there is Alex Etel as Tolly and Etel acts brilliantly but his character comes across as annoying which is a shame.
What this all boils down to is that "From Time to Time" is for all sense and purpose just another one of those children's ghost stories which takes place in an old family home. But whilst familiar it is charming and thanks to good performances and story telling it keeps you watching.