Produced by Adam Shapiro, Charles Salmon, Tom Wilhite. Executive producers, Marie Vine, Yukio Sonoyama. Co-producers, Eva Redfern, Nick de Grunwald.
Directed, written by Willard Carroll, based on the novel by Philippa Pearce. Camera (color), Gavin Finney; editor, Les Healey; music, Debbie Wiseman. Reviewed on videocassette, Seattle, June 1, 1999. (In Seattle Film Festival.) Running time: 107 MIN.
With: Greta Scacchi, James Wilby, Joan Plowright, Anthony Way, David Bradley, Penelope Wilton, Nigel Le Vaillant, Liz Smith, Florence Hoath, Caroline Carver, Mel Martin, Serena Gordon.
One of those childhood fantasies with a rhythm geared more to adults than moppets, the gorgeous but sluggish “Tom’s Midnight Garden” alternates awkwardly acted expository scenes from the teen leads with fanciful special effects in and around the titular yard. Coin may be forthcoming at a few matinees, but a more likely venue is kiddie cable and the vidstore south 40.
This American-funded adaptation by Willard Carroll of Brit Philippa Pearce’s book — Hyperion also backed his recent “Playing by Heart” — finds ’50s teenager Tom, self-consciously essayed by 14-year-old singing sensation Anthony Way, sent to live with childless Aunt Gwen and Uncle Alan (Greta Scacchi, James Wilby) to avoid a sick brother. He discovers that each midnight the clock strikes 13 and the gray, trash-strewn back alley becomes a verdant wonderland (shot on English and Isle of Man locations) complete with new soulmate Hatty (Florence Hoath), an 1880s 12-year-old orphan. Highlight of these proper proceedings is Joan Plowright’s pivotal, single speaking scene near the fade; for a few brief moments the movie has the serenely twinkling sense of wonder that has largely eluded it to that point.