I have long been thinking that I should write another blog post, but no topic has inspired me enough to write for quite some time. Ideas and thoughts have drifted in and out, passing by like clouds but nothing has stuck; and in my time writing plays, I’ve learnt it’s the ideas which stick – generally speaking – that are the good ones, or at very least the ones worth pursuing. So, if the inverse is the case, best not write at all.
But, as I type it’s Christmas Eve and Paddington 2 is on BBC One. That is all the inspiration I need.
Paddington 2 is a recent masterpiece. It’s a classic, worthy of frequent re-watching, discussion, evaluation, love and adoration. I could stop there, but why do that?
At the film’s core is a message of love and compassion for one another. It’s what typifies the lead character. He is a good bear, through and through. Paddington is someone that values every individual’s place in the world – even those that won’t do the same for him. He’s open, generous and willing to help those alike and unlike himself. In short, he is the perfect lead character. Inspiring to anyone watching, young and old.
In many ways, that amount of goodness could prove tiresome but in Paddington’s eyes and Ben Whishaw’s voice, it never does. He’s childlike but not childish, keen to learn and yet already very wise. He’s perfect.
Opposing him is Hugh Grant’s Phoenix Buchannan, an actor drifting towards the end of his career. He is the perfect villain and this is for many reasons.
Firstly, he has no directly quarrel with Paddington. Unlike Nicole Kidman’s Millicent, who was eager to kill and stuff Paddington – I mean, just the thought is enough to shiver the spine – in the first film. Phoenix, on the other, wants something in his possession, a pop-up book which points towards riches and future acting success. This delineation makes for a different taste of villain. One that we don’t hiss so much as boo. And that is an important difference.
We love to hate him, to use an old phrase, I feel, most associated with Simon Cowell; but, it’s certainly true of Grant’s Buchannan.
This is aided by Hugh Grant’s exceptional performance. Where has this new formed, award nominable, critical darling come from? I’ll tell you, Paddington 2. There is a pre and post, like with so many people’s careers and for Hugh Grant, it’s pre and post Paddington 2.
Grant imbues Phoenix with the same charm he employs in his countless rom-coms but with equal knowing winks to this being something he is known for. I’m sure we all know the trivia that all the headshots and fan art used for Phoenix in the film belong to Grant himself and are memorabilia kept from his career.
He’s an actor, playing an actor, acknowledging he’s himself an actor and this is the sort of thing he acts in. Genius!
And as I say, we cannot hate him. When he stands in the docks and condemns Paddington by citing Les Mis, it’s delightful. When he plays Macbeth, Scrooge, Poirot – other rights free characters – he’s charm personified. I wouldn’t go so far as to say we route for him, but I’d pay good money to see Phoenix’s one man-show in the West End – especially given the final scene in the prison.
Then we get to Knuckles McGinty, played with utter joy by Brendan Gleeson. Life-long criminal and cooking lover, we watch as his meeting with Paddington not only lifts him from his unhappiness and depression; but, into a realm of care for his fellow person. He starts to rejoice in life again and Paddington brings exuberance to the prison.
I mean, yes, they’re all escaping prison and that probably isn’t the most wholesome activity, but really ten years for stealing a pop-up book is a very harsh sentence.
Oh, and Barry. In a world of cinematic universes, cameos and hint appearances of so many famous figures, Barry is the true spin off we need on Disney+. Played by Simon Farnaby, also the film’s co-writer, he is a somewhat hapless security officer, first seen in the original film and again here. It’s such a delightful call-back to the first film from such an unlikely character, it’s a testament to the delicate touches of the film.
It’s Paul King, then, the film’s director and co-writer, who we have to thank for this touch, and so many other delicate touches in a row. The deftness of his skill makes building a film like this seem easy, but of course it isn’t. The man’s a marvel and such work rare.
The final scene, involving the arrival of a certain character having done a certain thing, is the purest form of cinematic art. You know, my love of this film exceeds my fears of pretention and encourages me to write sentence like the one before this. I’ll write it again: purest form of cinematic art, there it is. We have to deal with it now.
When that doorbell goes, we know who is at the door. The audience knows, the family knows, the incidental characters lining the walls like a hymn-less choir know and still, AND STILL, we cry when he opens it. And we do, don’t deny it. Well, deny it if you want but it’s not in the spirit of Paddington.
I could write more on this topic, but I know the more I write the less my eyes are on the screen and we’re getting to that very doorbell scene.
If you haven’t watched it, please watch it. If you don’t think it’s for you, fight that judgement. If you’ve seen it and love like I do, watch it again.
And thank you for reading this far. I didn’t mean to write this much and certainty didn’t intend to write this post, but there we are.
Stay safe, happy holidays, with love.