I wasn’t convinced that I needed to go and see the new CGI-live action Paddington film. I loved Michael Bond's books as a child and have fond memories of the animated shorts by FilmFair. Surely there wasn’t much point going to see a souped up, sentimental Christmas blockbuster about a decidedly modest and rather sticky bear?
Well, yes, there is. Apart from being funny and hugely enjoyable, the story of an illegal immigrant from darkest Peru who arrives in London and is dismayed to discover his welcome is not as warm as he had been led to expect feels very relevant. And this predicament is not confined to Paddington. My favourite character back in the 1960s when I first encountered the sticky bear, the kindly Mr Gruber who runs an antique shop on Portobello Road, is a refugee from Hitler’s Germany, and in the film his tragic past is hinted at in a way that is both poignant and subtle.
Of course, there have been additions to pad the story out to feature film length, principally the introduction of Millicent Clyde, an evil and fanatical taxidermist played by Nicole Kidman as a cross between her character, Mrs Coulter, in the Golden Compass and Cruella de Vil, but there’s plenty for traditionalists also, not least the introduction of the famous blue duffle coat, which caused a frisson not dissimilar to the one that runs through a cinema audience whenever James Bond’s Aston Martin first makes an appearance.
At a time when a general election looms and we are told by certain politicians and parties that they just ‘want our Britain back’, it is sobering to reflect that those qualities deemed essentially British by Paddington and his Aunt Lucy back in Peru – fairness, politeness and hospitality - are those that are most endangered when we turn our backs on those in need. It is the Browns’ small-minded neighbour, Mr Curry, played by Peter Capaldi, who best encapsulates this when he realises the consequences of his prejudice towards Paddington and seeks to make belated amends. I rather think that Paddington would give the lot of them a good hard stare.