Film reviews: Paddington and Hockney

David Gritten / 28 November 2014

Saga film critic David Gritten reviews two new films about British national treasures: Paddington Bear and David Hockney.

For anyone fretting about finding exactly the right film for the whole family – from grandparents to kids – this coming Christmas season, I can offer reassuring news: Paddington has an appeal that effortlessly straddles all generations.

This adaptation of Michael Bond’s books about the little bear from “darkest Peru” succeeds in being funny, touching, exciting and utterly satisfying.

Digital wizardry (by the people at Framestore, who masterminded the very different special effects for last year’s Gravity) has produced a hugely appealing little bear. He sounds exactly as one always imagined: earnest, polite, tentative and very English. Take a bow, Ben Whishaw, who voices Paddington to perfection.

Discovered at the station after which he is named, he is taken in by a chaotic nuclear family, the Browns, with a reluctant Hugh Bonneville at his deadpan best as Dad, and Sally Hawkins, a vaguely hippyish mother. The effect of Paddington on their household is jaw-dropping: he reduces it to a shambles, flooding entire rooms with seemingly little effort, and finding disastrous uses for domestic appliances.

Nicole Kidman makes quite an entrance as a nasty taxidermist with designs on Paddington’s hide, but she’s not so evil as to scare the little ones.

There are a few pointed references to Paddington’s immigrant status that may have Ukip supporters tut-tutting, but the story basically embraces tolerance of others in a relatively low-key manner.

It’s a genuinely funny, charming film, and a tribute to the venerable Michael Bond, who pleasingly is seen on screen for a split second, cheering Paddington on his way. A palpable British hit, then, and one that should be celebrated. Marmalade sandwiches all round!   

David Hockney has gradually become a beloved figure in Britain in the past two decades, a truth confirmed by the size of the crowds streaming into his exhibitions. Hockney, Randall Wright’s absorbing documentary about the greatest living Yorkshireman (well, he gets my vote) features terrific stories about his rich, varied life – from his own lips, and from those of friends, colleagues and other artists.   

Wright takes great pains to locate Hockney’s childhood in Bradford, where his formidable work ethic was forged. Hockney may have made his name in the sunshine of Los Angeles, with its dazzling blue swimming pools and stylish mansions. But he never lost sight of his vocation as an artist; his work has always been his life’s consuming passion.  

The film is never less than intriguing, and Hockney fans will be in heaven – while neutrals cannot fail to be impressed by a man still working tirelessly at 77, and maintaining his own demanding standards.

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