A Wrinkle In Time Cert: PG 1hr 49mins
Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time is a book that has stayed with me since childhood. That’s partly because its central idea of a ‘tesseract’ – a fold or ‘wrinkle’ in space and time that would allow us to travel millions of light years across the universe almost at will – was just so exciting for a child of the first space age like me, and partly because what flowed from this brilliant, pre-Hawking notion was so gloriously bonkers.
I mean, semi-supreme beings known as Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which? An evil entity known simply as ‘the IT’?
The new Disney adaptation, which arrives in cinemas a mere 56 years after L’Engle’s children’s classic first hit bookshops, is pretty bonkers too and, sadly, not always in a good way.
A Wrinkle In Time is a book that has stayed with me since childhood. This Disney adaptation is bonkers too, but sadly not always in a good way (Reese Witherspoon as Mrs Whatsit, above)
Yes, it has Reese Witherspoon as Mrs Whatsit being comically insensitive while wrapped in what appears to be high-fashion bed sheets, and Oprah Winfrey sporting glittery lipstick, matching eyebrows and big, blonde hair as Mrs Which, but somewhere along the line something has gone missing.
‘Could it be magic?’ as the quote-channelling Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling) might say, before adding the attribution: ‘Barry Manilow, American.’ Or maybe it’s the science. Matthew Bond, British.
As well as updating the action to the present day, director Ava DuVernay – best known for the civil-rights drama Selma – has overseen other changes too, the most noticeable of which is that this is now an ethnically ‘correct’ production.
The Murry family have become mixed-race, with Chris Pine playing the father and Gugu Mbatha-Raw the mother, while the three Mrs Ws are now Caucasian, Indian-American and African-American respectively.
Like some of the visual effects, the Mrs Ws just don’t quite work – Oprah Winfrey’s Mrs Which (above) struggles to convey the complexities of an omniscient being with a love of cosmetics
As for any Hispanics feeling left out… well, Michael Peña will be along as Red shortly, albeit playing a baddie.
There will, I know, be those irritated by such an overt show of political correctness but I liked it, particularly as Storm Reid, who plays the film’s 13-year-old reluctant heroine, Meg Murry, is an engaging, sympathetic and thoroughly modern presence.
Sadly, however, some of her good work is undone by the painfully shrill young actor playing her six-year-old brother Charles Wallace, who is less child prodigy here – as L’Engle’s story requires – more major irritant.
I’d hoped Disney had moved beyond this sort of precocious, showy-off style of child acting, but alas not.
Storm Reid’s Meg Murry (above with Witherspoon and Deric McCabe as Meg’s brother Charles Wallace) is an engaging, sympathetic and thoroughly modern presence
The starting point, however, is comfortably familiar, with the Murry family struggling to cope with the unexplained disappearance of father Alex four years earlier and, as we get properly under way, the inevitably troubled teenage Meg (bullied, under-achieving at school) and Charles Wallace sharing bread and hot milk on the sort of dark and stormy night that heralds something strange is about to happen.
Mrs Whatsit is on her way and the dimension-jumping hunt for Mr Murry – whom Meg has never given up hope of seeing again – has begun.
I really wanted to go with what ensues and there is certainly some lightweight, colourful fun to be had here, as we head towards that triumvirate of Disney tenets – that nothing is more important than family, good always defeats evil and love conquers everything.
Which is partly what L’Engle’s original book was about – but only partly.
Sadly some of Reid’s good work is undone by the painfully shrill young actor playing her six-year-old brother Charles Wallace, who is less child prodigy here, more major irritant
Something bigger, something more mind-expandingly substantial, has gone missing, along with real emotion and the important idea that an awkward girl like Meg, with troublesome hair, might be good at maths and science.
Here, she seems more dependent on the presence of putative boyfriend Calvin (nicely played by the young Australian actor Levi Miller), her love for her father and three semi-immortal beings apparently more interested in frocks than fractures in space-time.
Like some of the visual effects, the Mrs Ws just don’t quite work – Witherspoon’s isn’t funny enough, Kaling’s doesn’t have enough to do, while Winfrey’s (perhaps channelling Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, one of several echoes of The Wizard Of Oz) struggles to convey the complexities and contradictions of a floating, ethereal, omniscient being with a serious love of cosmetics.
IT’S A FACT
Madeleine L’Engle’s book was originally rejected by at least 26 publishers. It was finally released in 1962, and has been in print ever since.
Fans of the book will spot other changes – the inhabitants of the colour-drenched planet Uriel are now flying flowers rather than centaurs, the tentacled Aunt Beast barely gets a look in, and at least one planet seems to have gone missing altogether.
L’Engle’s underlying Christian message also seems to have disappeared somewhere along the way, although, as I didn’t notice this as a child (Narnia’s Aslan went straight over my head too), I’m hardly going to mourn its absence as an adult.
But perhaps what does most damage is the fact that there is no wrinkle in time in real life.
Years pass, decades pass, half-centuries pass – and much of what was innovative and exciting when L’Engle wrote her story are all too familiar now.
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House (12A)
Pacific Rim: Uprising (12A)
Steven Soderbergh, best known for Sex, Lies And Videotape and the Ocean’s Eleven franchise, announced his retirement from film-making five years ago.
But he’s already made one big-screen return with Logan Lucky and now he’s back again with Unsane, an edgy psychological thriller noteworthy not just for the fine acting but also for the fact that it was apparently shot on an iPhone.
Claire Foy, Queen Elizabeth in The Crown, takes on the role of Sawyer Valentini, a troubled young American who seeks counselling to help her deal with the emotional aftermath of being stalked, only to find herself committed to a psychiatric hospital. First for 24 hours, then for a week.
Unsane stars Claire Foy (above) as a troubled young woman who finds herself committed to a psychiatric hospital. It’s a dark, shifting production that even Hitchcock would enjoy
Is the hospital behaving unethically or is Sawyer sicker than we think?
The truth turns out to be even more complicated in a dark, constantly shifting production that even Hitchcock would enjoy.
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House is another political conspiracy thriller plucked from the Nixon-era White House.
Liam Neeson, clearly having trouble stepping back from action-thriller mode, isn’t brilliant as Felt, the associate director of the FBI who, after the Watergate break-in, battled to maintain the agency’s long-standing independence from political interference.
But with President Trump firing top FBI officials, the film’s message couldn’t be more topical or important.
Cross Godzilla with Transformers… in 2013 Pacific Rim pitched huge sea-monsters from another dimension against giant robots piloted by humans.
Despite its modest success, the franchise returns with Pacific Rim: Uprising. The visual effects are better and the monsters are evolving but the tangled, tedious storyline will defeat anyone over the age of ten.