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1 item from 1999

Film review: 'My Life So Far'

14 July 1999 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

"My Life So Far" is a gem. Magical and wise, witty and sentimental, this film from producer David Puttnam and director Hugh Hudson is one of the most engaging pictures about British family life since John Boorman's 1987 autobiographical tale "Hope and Glory".

Miramax Films may have a boxoffice hit here that could cross over from the specialty market into mainstream venues.

This film marks a triumphant reunion for Puttnam and Hudson, who collaborated on the 1981 Oscar-winning best picture "Chariots of Fire". Right from the opening shot -- of a bright-eyed baby grinning in a crib -- the film casts its spell. Within moments, an enchanted world in the misty Scottish Highlands opens up to the viewer.

Like "Hope and Glory", "My Life So Far" derives from personal history. The film is based on a memoir, "Son of Adam", by British television executive Denis Forman. He relates the story of a tumultuous year in the life of a wide-eyed 10-year-old in which he sees his world and his family change forever.

Young Fraser Pettigrew -- played with charm and spunk by newcomer Robert Norman -- lives on a bucolic Scottish estate in the early 1930s where a storybook castle named Kiloran House crowns a verdant hill. This kingdom of animals and crazy gizmos is benignly ruled by Fraser's eccentric inventor-father Edward (a buoyant Colin Firth).

"It's just bedlam -- like a zoo!" grouses Fraser's more practical-minded Uncle Morris (a debonair Malcolm McDowell), making one of his frequent visits to the ancestral home. It is indeed bedlam, but what a place to grow up!

Edward, a lover of Beethoven and hater of jazz, forever pursues hopeless schemes and a passionate belief in the medicinal properties of sphagnum moss. He has turned the estate into Europe's only moss factory, much to the distress of Uncle Morris, who would plant Norwegian pine for the publishing industry.

Indeed, Uncle Morris hints darkly he will throw Fraser's family off the estate once he inherits it. Holding Kiloran House together are twin towers of feminine strength: the family matriarch, Gamma Macintosh (a serenely handsome Rosemary Harris), and Edward's wife, Moira (lovely Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio).

Into this idyllic world comes Uncle Morris' "child bride," the utterly beautiful and utterly exotic Heloise (Irene Jacob), a French musician who brings with her a whiff of continental sophistication. What's more, she likes jazz.

Everyone falls in love with Heloise, especially young Fraser. Unbeknownst to the others, however, the highly moralistic Edward has also succumbed to her charms, which nearly leads to disastrous consequences.

The story is narrated by the 10-year-old whose sensibilities grow more adult as the year skips by. Events force him to alter his image of his seemingly God-like father whereby Edward becomes more of a flesh-and-blood man and less of a role model for his adoring, impressionable son.

British playwright Simon Donald has crafted a wry screenplay from Forman's memoir, filled with surprises and rich in the details of extraordinary lives. Donald, Hudson and Puttnam along with the terrific cast make certain the story contains no villains. People may behave in less than perfect ways, but they remain true to their passions.

Young Norman's performance is a miracle, but the entire cast is a complete delight. This extends to even smaller roles such as Tcheky Karyo's "Emperor of the Air", an aviator who literally drops onto the estate to amaze the Pettigrews, and Kelly MacDonald as the eldest daughter who is bewitched by the Emperor.

French cinematographer Bernard Lutic fills the screen with the beauty of misty Scotland and a country house that designer Andy Harris has turned into an ancient family seat. One senses the Pettigrew ancestors still inhabit this dwelling whose large rooms remain somehow homelike.

Young Fraser's childhood is filled with enchantment -- the wild man lurks in the nearby woods, devils allegedly dwell in the attic, bizarre inventions (all designed by Alain Chennaux) clutter the lawns. But most fantastic of all are the secret books and drawings of naked women belonging to Fraser's late grandfather, which the young lad devours without fully comprehending their implications.

Hanging over this idyllic world is the specter of the coming world war that will forever shatter its splendid isolation. This specter gives the comic events a gentle scent of nostalgia for what has been lost. Such innocence could never have lasted. But this magical story celebrates the memory of that innocence as few films have done.


Miramax Films

Enigma Prods. in association_with Hudson Film

Producers: David Puttnam, Steve Norris

Director: Hugh Hudson

Writer: Simon Donald

Based on the book "Son of Adam" by: Denis Forman

Executive producers: Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Paul Webster

Director of photography: Bernard Lutic

Production designer: Andy Harris

Music: Howard Blake

Costumer: Emma Porteous

Editor: Scott Thomas



Edward: Colin Firth

Gamma: Rosemary Harris

Heloise: Irene Jacob

Moira: Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio

Uncle Morris: Malcolm McDowell

Fraser: Robert Norman

Gabriel Chenoux: Tcheky Karyo

Elspeth: Kelly MacDonald

Running time -- 97 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13


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