DATELINE: Strange Fellowes
Julian Fellowes held some out of town tryouts before his big hit with the upper crust Downton Abbey. Gathering together two of his principals (Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville), Fellowes chose a story that would have been an old-fashioned Walt Disney British movie with Haley Mills in the 1960s. From Time to Time is time enough.
Instead, it was a flop in America—and may be a curio because of the great cult success of the successor to Upstairs/Downstairs. Indeed, Pauline Collins—once the upstairs maid—is now Maggie Smith’s housekeeper. The year is 1944—and young Tolly is sent to stay with his grandmother to stay clear of the war in Manchester.
Tolly (Alex Etel) is no Haley Mills; we leave that sort of thing to Douglas Booth (Sefton). Tolly is a clairvoyant and soon realizes he can weave between timeframes at his granny’s estate. Soon he is spirit in 1810 as distant ancestors have family squabbles over Jacob, a slave boy, that Hugh Bonneville has brought to England as a companion for his blind daughter.
After that, you might expect complications with two astral planes and plenty of dirty laundry. Performances are uniformly superior to whatever passes for movies nowadays; this is a Fellowes production, written and directed by Julian
We give kudos to Dominic West as the butler Caxton, not Carson, and his odd relationship with the son of the manor, Douglas Booth as the foppish jeunesse doree, Sefton. Also around is gardener Timothy Spall in the modern age.
The film falls short of Gosford Park or Downton Abbey, but if you are in the neighborhood, you may as well stop by for tea, ghosts, and sympathy if you have time on your hands.