Bewitched by Flower
Mary and the Witch's Flower (PG)
103 mins ★★★★
There’s a week to go of her summer holidays, and boredom’s set in for Mary Smith (The BFG’s Ruby Barnhill).
As she waits to start her new school in the country, life with Aunt Charlotte (Lynda Baron) and Miss Banks (Morwenna Banks) at Red Manor Village is not nearly eventful enough for the rambunctious redhead. ‘‘You’re meant to look twice before you leap, Mary hardly looks at all,’’ notes her aunty.
Complaining bitterly that nothing good ever seems to happen in her life, she’s even less impressed when neighbouring boy Peter (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) makes fun of her, her two hosts head off to a funeral, and the telly is bust.
So when a black cat crosses her path, her interest is piqued, especially when it seemingly beckons her into the nearby woods. There, Mary discovers an unusual flower and a battered old broomstick one that not only levitates, but is a means of transport. Leaping aboard, she suddenly finds herself scooting through the air. She lands on a strange island and is confronted by a Scots Fox Flanagan (Ewen Bremner), who tells her that she has arrived at Endor College – a prestigious school for witches dating back to the time of dragons.
Bemused by her surroundings and the esteem at which she is held in, Mary encounters the headmistress, Madame Mumblechook (Kate Winslet), and the mysterious Doctor Dee (Jim Broadbent). As they explain their multitude of magical courses and give her a tour of their curious campus, Mary’s excitement grows. However, when they learn that she knows the whereabouts of the ‘‘Fly By Night’’ flower, the pair’s demeanours rapidly change – when Mary returns home for the evening she discovers that Peter has gone missing.
Studio Ponoc’s first feature-length film continues the legacy of Japan’s famed Studio Ghibli. Many of the animators who worked on this were formerly with the Hayao Miyazaki-led company, which has helped bring anime to a wider global audience with movies like Spirited Away, Ponyo and Howl’s Moving Castle.
Based on the 1971 book The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, Ponoc’s Mary possesses the same strong female protagonist, weird and wonderful beasties and slightly surreal charm as Ghibli’s best.
A kind of mix of Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden and Harry Potter, writer and co-director Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s (When Marnie Was There) tale also reminds one of The Island of Dr Moreau.
A most enjoyable way to cure school holiday boredom – for almost a couple of hours at least. – James Croot