Review By: Stephen Snart
There’s no Timmy and there’s no well. This isn’t the Lassie you might have grown up with from classic 1950s television. In this case, Charles Sturridge is the latest filmmaker to submit an entry into the ever-growing stable of Lassie productions. He has made his fair share of high-class BBC productions, working with the likes of Alec Guiness, Helen Mirren and Jeanne Moreau, but his work is relatively unknown in the US. Lassie, quite literally, represents his pet project as he not only directs, but serves as co-writer and producer as well.
Sturridge’s approach to the material is inspired. I confess that I am not that well versed in past Lassie productions, but my impression was that the film would take place somewhere in the American mid-west and feature a wholesome, picturesque, white-bread family. I was subsequently informed that the original novel is in fact a work of revered, British literature but you can still imagine my surprise when I found out that this new film version takes place in poverty-stricken Yorkshire during the beginning of WWII.
The majestically beautiful and unassumingly intelligent Lassie belongs to a young boy named Joe (Jonathan Mason) and his parents Sam (John Lynch) and Sarah (two-time Oscar-nominee Samantha Morton). Sam had to spend a lot of time away from the house, working long hours at the town’s coal mine, but not for much longer, as the impending war is shutting down the coal mine. Strapped for cash, the family begrudgingly sells the dog in order to conserve their resources – giving way for an obligatory goodbye in which Joe must tearfully denounce Lassie, falsely telling her she was a bad dog and to find a new home. You can see how the plot more closely resembles Cinderella Man than your average, extra-intelligent canine caper.
Concurrently, a young girl of roughly the same age but opposite financial caste named Cilla (Hester Odgers) is forced to evacuate London and live with her grandfather, the Duke of Rudling (the legendary Peter O’Toole). As a way of taking his granddaughter’s mind off of being away from her parents, the Duke buys Lassie from the poor family. Obviously, Lassie is resistant to leave her loving family behind. Making matters worse is the malevolent kennel man Hynes (Steve Pemberton) who physically abuses Lassie at every opportunity and even has a sinister mustache to twirl. Lassie eventually figures out how to escape his sinister grip– but not before she’s been transplanted to the Northern tip of Scotland.
Finding herself in a far away land, Lassie uses her wits to navigate down the isle back to the family that she loves. Along the way, Lassie