Writers love to mess about with the concept of time, don’t they? J B Priestley was never happier than when he was plotting a Dangerous Corner or having a mystical Inspector Call; he even wrote a play called “I Have Been Here Before”. Ayckbourn is fascinated by time and has set different plays all performing at the same time in different parts of the same house; or with alternative endings depending on the toss of a coin; or indeed playing around with Communicating Doors, entering and exiting into time itself. And then there’s Doctor Who of course; and a whole raft of science fiction.
Now it’s Richard Curtis’ turn to dabble with this concept, in his latest rom com, About Time. It’s an elegantly written, mischievous tale about a family where the males have a secret gift – they can go back in time. All they have to do is go into a cupboard, clench their fists and whoosh, they return to a moment they had previously indexed to amend, rectify, and generally tinker with the past. Young Tim is of course highly suspicious of his newly discovered gift, and does what any young man would do under such circumstances – goes back and attempts to enhance his love life.
But that’s not quite as easy as it sounds, as women have a mind of their own too. If the course of true love never did run smooth that’s even more the case when you have the ability to rewind and erase. Nevertheless, by a devious trick of time he snatches his newly found beloved away within seconds of her otherwise falling for a jerk at a party and they all live happily ever after.
That’s just a small part of the plot. Richard Curtis is unbeatable at creating hapless but kindly men who need a damn good love affair but who go about it in the most awkward way possible. Tim is a natural successor to Charles in Four Weddings and Will in Notting Hill, just more ginger. His characters give hope to hapless, hopeless men all over the world – on behalf of all such chaps, Mr Curtis has done us a great service – and, as always, the hopeless man succeeds (against all odds) with a beautiful woman. Tim is a very believable, likeable chap and you really want his blossoming romance to come to fruition. This element of the film is extremely heart-warming; and the comedy that ensues from it, as it does from the whole time travel story, is top notch. Indeed, some sequences in this film had me in complete stitches.
There is another side to it though – a rather sentimental side. Can you turn back time in order to avoid a horrific car crash, or a terminal disease? The former – not without other disastrous consequences; the latter – not at all. Does the sentimental side work? Well it certainly pings on your heartstrings and ends up boiling over with emotions, albeit in a terribly British, reserved sort of way. At least two ladies in the audience were moved to tears, and one actually had to leave the auditorium for a few minutes to compose herself. Whilst the plot never became unbelievable (apart from its central theme), I did feel that it dipped into mawkishness just a little to much. I won’t say anymore – I’ve probably already told you too much of the plot anyway. You’ll just have to go and see it to decide for yourself.
It’s crammed full of excellent performances, both in the leads and in the smaller parts too. I’ve not seen Domhnall Gleeson before and he’s absolutely brilliant as Tim, his hopeless haplessness gently developing into confidence and maturity. Rachel McAdams (also new to us) is Mary, the object of Tim’s desire, and she’s superb at conveying the sexiness of the start of a new relationship. It’s a great comic performance throughout. It goes without saying that Bill Nighy and Lindsay Duncan as Tim’s parents, are completely fantastic and steal virtually every scene they are in. Lydia Wilson is both feral and innocent as Kit Kat, Tim’s sister, and there’s great support too from Tom Hollander as the self-obsessed playwright friend of Tim’s father, Vanessa Kirby as Mary’s unreliably wild friend Joanna, Margot Robbie as Kit Kat’s glamorous pal Charlotte and Joshua McGuire as Tim’s nice-but-thoroughly-useless colleague Rory. It’s a very enjoyable and engrossing story and well worth seeing – just remember to take tissues for when it overdoses in schmaltz!