This Beautiful Fantastic: Film Review
Cast: Tom Wilkinson, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, Jeremy Irvine
Director: Simon Aboud
Inhabiting a world where quirky abounds, fable This Beautiful Fantastic sets out its stall within its opening moments of voice-over.
Wearied and cynically scathing, Tom Wilkinson's character Alfie Stephenson decries his relationship with Bella Brown by explaining that "she would have perished, where it not for the ducks."
What follows is the kind of romantically saccharine but harmless fare destined to do well with an audience of a certain kind as the story of OCD Bella Brown (Downton Abbey's Lady Sybil Crawley aka Brown Findlay) unfurls.
Reclusive orphan Bella, who works at the local library and is bullied by the boss, finds her world is changed when her neighbour, the curmudgeon Alfie (wonderfully portrayed by Wilkinson) enters her life.
Whereas Alfie keeps a tidy garden, Bella fears the outside and has let hers run riot (the kind of terrifying NIMBYism so prevalent in the suburbs of Britain), much to his chagrin. Things are further exacerbated when Bella's landlord shows up, demanding she clean up or be thrown out. And to make matters worse, Alfie's cook (the ever-reliable Sherlock star Andrew Scott) decides enough is enough and decamps to the neighbour rather than enduring Alfie's bullying.
Negotiating a truce, the pair decide to help each other to their own mutual advantage with the landlord's deadline ticking ever closer.
This Beautiful Fantastic is a fable, wrapped in the trappings of a pantomime.
From the beautiful orphan princess to the ogre whose kind heart lies beneath a snarky veneer, it plays up the eccentricities of the characters to a level that's almost intolerable as it moves from narrative pillar to post.
Brown Findlay's initial OCD is sidelined and relatively forgotten as the story goes on, drowned in those around her's idiosyncracies. But she keeps a grounded approach to the story that revels in whimsy and a kind of English prissiness that is as pervasive as a weed in a suburban London garden.
There's great joy in Wilkinson's delivery of snide bon mots and cast-off comments; the curmudgeon suits him early on, before the inevitable thaw sets in. From complaining about the "horticultural terrorist" to the "unmitigated eco apocalypse" that's likely to befall him, surly suits the earlier oddities that threaten to drown the film's atmosphere.
There's a strong case to be had that Wilkinson's a veritable live action remake of the Victor Meldrew character in this, a Britain so irritated by the unimportant that it consumes him, though wisely writer and director Aboud never really imbues him with an edge of meanness.
And once again Scott makes an argument for why every character piece should have him involved; making the acting look easy and giving the whole thing a warmth and heart that grounds the fantastical elements prove to be a great boon here.
The whole atmosphere of the ever-so slightly charming This Beautiful Fantastic is one of fluff in many ways, as the classic misunderstandings present in the narrative in the expected places and the sitcom vibe ticks off the tropes.
And yet in among the sweetness of this piece as it moves in a ramshackle fashion towards its entirely predictable denouement, it's hard to deny its watchability, given it's bathed in such a warmth that it feels like a cloud, a kind of dreamy wish fulfillment in many ways.