Come Away


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Come Away
"While the film's more nostalgic elements are likely to help to keep adults on board it is also invigorated, not only by Goodhill's unorthodox approach to the works but also by the diverse casting." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Film history is littered with adaptations of Alice In Wonderland, stretching back to 1903 and, with at least one per decade from the Forties onward. That few of these have been successful is perhaps a testament to the fragmented and often surreal nature of the original narrative and its satirical ideas that will float over the heads of most children.

Screenwriter Melissa Kate Goodhill works with Lewis Carroll's episodic storyline to canny effect by marrying the absurdist elements of his book to the more straightforward adventure themes of JM Barrie's Peter Pan (also adapted on its own with verve and imagination in Benh Zeitlin's fellow Sundance entry Wendy) in Come Away.

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Goodhill brings these elements together in this period-set origin story to both novels, that imagines Alice (Keira Chansa) and Peter (Jordan A Nash) as brother and sister. They live along with their sibling David (Reece Yates) and mum and dad Jack and Rose Littleton (David Oyelowo and Angelina Jolie) in the middle of a forest. It's a place where the children's imaginations - and that of Brave director Brenda Chapman - can run riot and where thinking about a pirate's ship, a sword or a posse of Lost Boys can conjure them into being, at least in the mind's eye of each youngster. We see these things vividly too, the rough and tumble captured in all its feverish glory by cinematographer Jules O'Laughlin, so that we immediately on board with the film's flights of fantasy. There is both simplicity (a stick turning into a bow) and intricacy (an origin story for a tiny metal "Tinker Bell" told to Alice by her mum), all helping us, like the children, to accept the unreal as real.

Death arrives, as it so often does in children's tales, and brings with it trouble for Peter and Alice, who find their once loving mother increasingly erratic as she turns to drink and their father, who is also revealed to have addictive appetites, becoming troubled and distant. It is here that the derring-do of Pan gives way to the more oddball ideas of Wonderland, with familiar sequences such as Alice's encounter with the bottle mark "drink me" given a fresh and heartrending twist. As the children try to navigate this new landscape - and go on adventure to London - they will also encounter a Mad Hatter (Clarke Peters) and a Red Queen, personified by Rose's stuck-up sister Eleanor (Anna Chancellor).

Although the story unfolds in unexpected and sometimes complex ways, because we have been plunged into the children's world from the start, it is easy to be swept along for the ride. While the film's more nostalgic elements are an addition reason for adults to retain their interest, the tale is also invigorated, not only by Goodhill's unorthodox approach to the works but also by the diverse casting, which it would be great to see more of in period pieces like this. The young cast works well together and, if there is a slight broadness to the adult roles, it only adds to the fairy-tale feel, where characters are always just a bit larger than life.

You may not quite believe in fairies by the end of this but there's a chance you'll believe in children's ability to see them even if we can't.

Reviewed on: 09 Mar 2020
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Before Alice found Wonderland, and Peter became Pan, they were brother and sister. When their brother dies in an accident, they seek to save their parents from downward spirals until finally they're forced to choose between home and imagination, setting the stage for their iconic journeys into Wonderland and Neverland.

Director: Brenda Chapman

Writer: Lewis Carroll, Marissa Kate Goodhill, based on the novel by JM Barrie

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Caine, Derek Jacobi, Clarke Peters, David Gyasi, Anna Chancellor, David Oyelowo, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Damian O'Hare, Jordan A. Nash, Reece Yates, Jo Wheatley, Shun Yin, Rob Pavey

Year: 2020

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: UK, US


Sundance 2020

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