CS Lewis

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Film review

 Film imagery

Director: Andrew Adamson
Cert PG, 140 mins

The surest way to make a really hated movie – should you aspire to such feats – is to film a much-loved novel. That way, with an average quality movie, you can inspire armies of disgruntled fans to wail about all the bits you missed out, meddled with, misunderstood and misrepresented, and how you’ve ruined their favourite book.

And so I was all set to hate this film. The magic of Narnia falling into the hands of Disney and its money machine. Wrong accents, inappropriate quips, a different “message”, unnecessary fiddling…

In fact, the film is a delight. It’s extraordinarily faithful to the book, which certainly helps. But even more impressively, what it does change and add is almost always in the spirit of the original, and generally an improvement. This is true even when it’s rather cheekily done, like when Susan criticises CS Lewis’s verse for not rhyming properly.

For example, when Mr Tumnus the faun (a superb performance from James McAvoy) lulls Lucy with his pipe-playing, we get the lovely touch of the music conjuring pictures in the fire, which come to a surprising but quite inspired conclusion.

The characters of Mr and Mrs Beaver are also developed further than in the book, and the considerable extra dialogue they get is all great.

It was surprising how English the film is. Disney has for once resisted the temptation to transform the characters into Californians, and in fact the only American accent in the whole film is the witch’s henchwolf Maugrim – a stunning cultural role reversal for Hollywood. But it’s something more fundamental and less tangible than this as well – a restrained tone to the whole film.

There were some minor hiccups, most notably the silly, iceflow-surfing, oh-no-Lucy’s-dead-oh-she’s all-right scene. And the crowning scene at the end was painfully overdone – but then so is the whole last chapter of the book, so fair enough.

Tilda Swinton plays a great witch, icy but controlled, though apparently dressed in a vase, and the children all acquit themselves impressively well.

When we come to Aslan, we’re looking at the CGI rather than Liam Neeson’s acting. And this is the great problem with filming this book – and the reason why C S Lewis was opposed to it, way back then. Because a character works in words on a page, it does not necessarily follow that it will work on the screen.

Aslan is an awesome figure on the page. On screen he is recreated impressively (it makes you think how far technology has come since that dodgy dog in Toy Story), but there are times when you can’t help looking at him and thinking he’s just a big furry cat with a moving mouth.

When it comes to his passion, however, all such thoughts disappear, and we are every bit as gripped as we should be. The film is first of all a relief because it does not ruin the novel. It quickly becomes a thrill.

Steve Tomkins

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About this module

Our famous follower in these pages is CS Lewis, known as ‘the apostle to the sceptics’ in 20th century Britain, but his books, including Narnia, are read around the world. He is the author of scholarly books, science fiction, popular theology and his children’s classics, the Chronicles of Narnia. All of them shot through with his imaginative and powerful retelling of the Christian story.

These pages were written by Stephen Tomkins.

Categories: Lives, Biographical, Reviews,


Module contents

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arrow CS Lewis: his story

arrow Film review

arrow Faith and magic

arrow Young Jack

arrow Behind the wardrobe

arrow The Narnia books

arrow Quote unquote

arrow Further reading

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