A Crowded House (of Ghosts) (Film Review: “From Time to Time”)

A spooky yet tender all-star ghost story for the whole family, from the creator of Downton Abbey.

SnapShot Plot

From Time to Time is a family-friendly ghost story written, produced and directed by Julian Fellowes a year or so before the world met the Crowley family of Downton Abbey. In fact, the film features so many of our favorite Downton players that half the fun is spotting them here in this time-traveling period drama set in 1944 toward the end of World War II and, concurrently, over a century earlier in the same grand old English estate.

British actor, Alex Etel (from 2007’s The Water Horse) carries the entire picture on sturdy shoulders as young Tolly Oldknow, a pensive boy who returns to his grandmother after years spent away from the family home, after his father is reported missing in action in the War. The grandmother is none other than the legend herself, Maggie Smith, whose well-placed sardonic quips foreshadow the delightful scene-stealing lines for which she’ll be known in short time in the Downton series. But here she plays a woman who’s long struggled to hang on to her ancestral home but now reluctantly acknowledges will have to be sold. And with it would go the histories of generations of family members who have walked those halls, and whose ghosts continue to inhabit the place even today. In fact, no sooner does Tolly settle down to his first night in the big house than he comes face to face with an ancestral cousin who literally barges into his room, of course scaring him half to death. But here’s the twist. Rather than being summarily dismissed by an unbelieving adult figure, when Tolly races to his grandmother (still shaken from his other-worldly encounter) and asks her if she believes in ghosts, her matter-of-fact reply is “Don’t you?”

Apparently it’s no big secret that the (deceased) former inhabitants of the house (including many of the servants . . . after all, this is a Julian Fellowes script!) will reveal themselves to those among the living who are open and receptive to their existence. With Tolly preoccupied by the tragic possibility of his own father’s death, he is particularly receptive to the idea of the dead walking among us. As his relationship deepens with his grandmother, Tolly learns about the history of the house and the family members he ‘sees’, and in particular an unsolved mystery surrounding the dramatic events of the past which are unfolding around him at a rapid pace. In this equation, however, Tolly more than observes the past in action; he actually participates in it as a vital, causal character who literally shapes the course of history, as it were. Even while he is occasionally spooked by the spooks, his fear turns into compassion as his family bond strengthens with those around him, both living and dead.


 “I’m sorry to have to tell you, Madame, but the house is on fire.”

Parting Shot

It seems From Time to Time was never distributed in North America when it was released in 2009 in Europe. Which makes it a little jewel in Netflix’s toy box. Julian Fellowes adapted his 2009 screenplay from the 1958 children’s novel by acclaimed author and master quilter, Lucy M. Boston, entitled, The Chimneys of Green Knowe. Look closely and you’ll see examples of her prized quilts throughout the sets.

You’ll also note the future visual touches of Downton Abbey everywhere, from Liz Trubridge’s detailed production elements to the cast itself, making it a great little appetite whetter as we anxiously await the 6th and final season of the series, slated to begin in January, 2016. Add to that a casting lineup which includes the collective acting chops of Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Pauline Collins, Dominic West, Allen Leech, Carice Van Houten, and Timothy Spall, and a reading of the phone book would sound riveting. But with a characteristically clever and moving script by Fellowes, with special effects that are haunting rather than horrifying, this simple story is elevated to fine entertainment perfect for an August family vacation before the new school season commences.

From Time to Time is presently streaming on Netflix.

Norma’s Streaming Picks is proud to announce squatters rights on a new site for Baby Boomers, Midcentury/Modern as well as right here on my own site. I invite you to go there for more great content!

YouTube Trailer Courtesy of:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdu7OVpqkbo



1 Comment

  • Giovanna says:

    Woohoo! Now and Forever! Forever and a Day! Time and Again! Whatever it’s called!

    Definitely great for kids, as we have seen firsthand!

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