Directed by Paul King
Starring Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Hugh Grant
Paddington’s (Ben Whishaw) idyllic existence with the Browns at Windsor Gardens is interrupted when an antique picture book he’s hoping to buy for his Aunt Lucy is stolen from Samuel Gruber’s antique shop. Worse still Paddington, in an ill thought out attempt to stop the thief, is now wrongly accused of the crime. As Mary (Sally Hawkins) and Henry Brown (Hugh Bonneville) attempt to find the master of disguise cat burglar (Hugh Grant) to clear Paddington’s name, will a little bear survive his time in jail, as a guest of Her Majesty?
The biggest surprise is Paddington 2 might have one of the tightest scripts of the year. There is barely any wasted word, with everything getting some pay-off at some point in the film., fitting together like a fine precision watch. Each piece gives you exactly enough of the character to get an insight into them, and give them a little arc within the story, even down to having an engaging little romance play out entirely in the background. Add to this that it is not merely tight, but aware, and surprisingly intelligent (including some deep cuts into Shakespeare’s work), and you really do have something that is a work of sheer beauty.
Yet Paul King (The Mighty Boosh) also adds a remarkable creativity to the film, allowing it to flow into ingenious pieces of cinema magic, as Paddington’s imagination gets drawn into a picture book of London, or his dreams of freedom recreate an entire jungle in his jail cell. There is a rich whimsical visual lexicon on display here, that would do Wes Anderson proud. One entirely in keeping with the spirit of the character, never overwhelming the childhood story, but rather enhancing it.
It is in staying true to that childhood magic of the story that is the secret to Paddington 2. Yes, there is more than a little nostalgia about the British Empire here, but this is as much a modern multicultural England. At its heart Paddington is the tale of an orphan immigrant that loves his adopted country, and wishes to embrace it. He might not understand the traditions, and he will make a horrible mess of things occasionally, but through manners, a strong community spirit, and mutual respect and kindness – everything should end up all right in the end. In a time when divides are becoming more and more pronounced in society, this simple message resonates as clearly and loudly as the chimes of Big Ben.
In this King is aided by a large British cast of comedians and actors that would do a Harry Potter film proud (including a couple of Hogwart’s alumni). Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Ben Whishaw (Q in the new Bond films), Julie Waters (Mrs Weasley), Hugh Grant (Love Actually), Brendan Gleeson (“Mad Eye” Moody himself)… and that’s just the primary cast, without looking at small roles from the likes of Ben Miller (Armstrong and Miller), Richard Ayode (The IT Crowd), and Sanjeev Bhaskar (The Kumars). Surprisingly Grant really sinks his teeth into the role, letting his worse ham actor come to the forefront to give life to the faded Thespian turned villainous cat bugler. It’s a scenery chewing performance, one that is utterly required from the part, and one that Grant attacks with relish. Yet it is Whishaw’s performance that is the heart and soul of the film, as he gives a believable and charming earnestness to the young bear from Peru.
A sheer joy from beginning to end, Paddington 2 dips into a long history of British comedy to bring us something that is fresh and charming.