Dorothy used a cyclone, the Pevensies use a wardrobe
CS LEWIS’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe has had children bumping their heads into the backs of old cupboards looking for a winter wonderland populated by fauns, centaurs and talking beavers for decades. Director Andrew Adamson has kept that seductive aura of magic, mystery and menace intact in his Hollywood adaptation of the much loved novel.
Set against the backdrop of The Blitz of World War Two, the four Pevensie children, Lucy (Henley), Edmund (Keynes), Susan (Popplewell) and Peter (Moseley) are evacuated out of London to the sanctuary of a country manor. During a game of hide-and-seek, Lucy, the youngest, hides in an old wardrobe and finds more than she bargained for. The wardrobe leads her into the wintry world of Narnia. There she meets Mr Tumnus (McAvoy), a faun, who tells her about Narnia and how it’s been under the spell of the evil White Witch, Jadis (Swinton), for more than 100 years.
Returning to the real world, she tells her siblings of her adventure but, of course, they don’t believe her … until curiosity gets the better of Edmund and he, too, finds himself in the enchanted land. However, instead of meeting the sweet natured Tumnus, Edmund’s first meeting is with the evil Jadis herself. Edmund falls for the intimidating charms (and Turkish delight) of Swinton’s deathly sinister incarnation, so much so that when he returns to the cold land with the other three, he soon deserts them in favour of the promise of more Turkish delight in the company of the evil queen.
When all four finally enter Narnia together, they discover Tumnus has been taken by Jadis’s forces and enlist the help of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver (voiced by Winstone and French) to free him. However, Edmund, the weakest link, deserts them to join Jadis, but, after discovering her true nature, reunites with the others. Soon, all four are caught up in the impending battle between the Witch and her nemesis, Aslan the Lion. Edmund’s lack of loyalty to his family creates a dangerous rift and his betrayal costs all of Narnia a heavy price. It resonates through the wartime story as the film’s grounding moral lesson.
The film is an odd concoction, sitting between the high fantasy adventure of The Lord of the Rings, the more youth-orientated action of Harry Potter, and has a Christian message lurking in the background. CS Lewis wasn’t a Christian author, he was an author who happened to be a Christian and a little of that worked its way into his ideas for the latter half of the novel.
The first half is atmospheric but somewhat slow – the film only really gets going in the second half. It builds towards a battle that doesn’t disappoint. It’s bright, colourful and highly dynamic, with a fabulous variety of creatures in the surging, clashing ranks.
Aslan, who guides the children in a war against the Witch, is a marvel of computer generated technology. Voiced by Liam Neeson, with great warmth and vigour, he provides a strong focus as a potent, well-realised character. He is clearly the biggest spend of the visual effects budget, even though he is in the film a relatively short amount of time. However, his presence is colossal and he instantly becomes a figure you love and respect.
As for the children, they just about pull it off thanks largely to the youngest and least experienced among them, Henley, who plays Lucy with natural charm. She is the most charismatic, although Keynes is impressive in his transition from bratty brother to noble warrior. Ray Winstone and Dawn French provide many of the laughs as the pair of bickering beavers, but there is a sobering edge to the film with its visions of death and sacrifice.
The film features a cornucopia of talking creatures, all manner of beasts straight out of mythology, plus a classical storyline as old as time itself. It’s a bundle of intriguing characters, tense situations, lively action and fateful events, and it utterly grips the child inside us. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is a feast of visual delights, but it is also an instructive story about wartime dilemmas.