Into Film Project: 1 – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Upon my return to university my dad gave me a free academic year wall poster, sent to where he works by the organisation Into Film. Designed to encourage schools and young people to engage more with film, as part of this it has recommended films for days of the year. For example, today is International Day of Literacy and their recommended film was The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Having watched the film, I have decided to create this blog project, in which I watch the recommended films and then blog about it. There is not a pattern to the days, but I will try to watch as many of the films as I can and update you on those days. So, now to begin. This review will contain spoilers for the film and also mildly for the book series. 

This is not the first time I have watched this film and I believe that I even saw it in the cinema. However, it is one of those films that I felt indifferent about, or at least it was until I rewatched it this afternoon. I must stress that it is based upon the book by C.S. Lewis, one that was a favourite of mine as a child, and part of the larger series of The Chronicles of Narnia. The first film and also the first book to be written, it is actually the second book in the series overall, the first being The Magician’s Nephew which establishes the land of Narnia for the reader. But I digress.

The film begins by firmly placing it in its setting in the 1940s London Blitz with an air raid in full swing. The fear and, in Edmund’s case, lack of understanding (for want of a better word) is well depicted by the four talented child actors and I was almost in tears after only 5 minutes when they were sent off on the train to the countryside. From a historical perspective, the depiction of wartime atmosphere was fantastically done. To put it into context, watching this film with a group of 4-14 year olds at church (for reasons which will come clear in a moment) was only possible by skipping the first few minutes to prevent unnecessary upset by the wartime bombing.

Once Narnia appears I was very shocked to see James McAvoy as Mr Tumnus, even though I’ve seen the film multiple times. His Tumnus was perfect and Lucy, although the youngest actor, was fantastic in relating to him as a faun, despite him actually being a very talented human. It is at the point when you start to appreciate Harry Gregson-Williams’ beautiful score with Tumnus’ lullaby, although the music is apparent from the very beginning.

More surprise castings pop up in the form of Jim Broadbent, the professor and an excellent choice for the kind but erratic man, and Dawn French, Mrs Beaver who provides care, contempt and comedy all at once. However, the most surprising casting was Liam Neeson as Aslan. This is not the first Christ-like portrayal that Neeson has done, nor is it the last. His commanding yet kind voice epitomises the character of the Lion, and through Aslan’s actions there is a clear picture of what God has done for us through Jesus. C.S. Lewis converted to Christianity while tutoring at Oxford and, although he did not write Aslan as an allegorical representation of Jesus, he can be seen as the form of Christ in the fantasy world.

A quote from the film really stuck in my mind, spoken by Aslan after bringing Edmund back from his capture by the White Witch: “What is done is done, there is no need to speak to Edmund about what has passed”. This is an incredibly strong picture of the forgiveness we are called to have for others as Christ has for us and Aslan’s attitude of forgive and forget is thankfully something that the other children copy, a touching reunion of siblings.

50s attitudes towards men and women are firmly established in the story, with the women mourning Aslan’s loss whilst the men fight for Narnia against the White Witch. However, once Aslan rises from the dead and brings further forces to the battle, Susan also joins in to save her brothers. The family bond rises above petty resentment, particularly in Peter and Edmund’s case when the younger brother fights the White Witch the save the elder and then the roles are reversed when Edmund falls. For two brothers seemingly extremely against each other and rowing at every opportunity, it is a poignant reconciliation to watch on screen.

The end of the film truly is Lucy’s perfect childhood daydream, although the idea that they do not return to their own world for many years messes with my head – perhaps the idea that they are already separated from their mother made it easier to stay. Nevertheless, to see their aged selves at the end of the film was good, and a contrast to the original versions as they fall out the wardrobe. The Easter Egg in the credits from the Professor, or Digory Kirke for the eagled-eyed book fans, about being able to return to Narnia but via a different route opens the doors for the sequel, Prince Caspian, as well as, I hope, encouraging some viewers to visit Narnia by a different medium: a book.

A beautiful film, well acted with a fantastic storyline, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe provides a dreamworld for children with just the right amount of peril and something to think about. Five stars!

The next day of my Into Film Project will be this Sunday (13th) where I will be reviewing Fantastic Mr Fox for Roald Dahl Day!

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