The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe


Rating 2½

Directed by Andrew Adamson

Written by Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, adapted from the book by C S Lewis

Starring Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent and the voices of Liam Neeson, Ray Winstone, Dawn French and Rupert Everett

The Pevensie children (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) are evacuated from London during World War II and taken to live in a country manor house owned by Professor Digory Kirke (played by Jim Broadbent and generally thought to act as a fictional alter-ego of C S Lewis). While playing hide and seek, the youngest sibling, Lucy (Georgie Henley), discovers an old wardrobe in an otherwise empty room. When she hides inside the wardrobe she discovers that it is a doorway into the wintery world of Narnia, where she encounters Mr Tumnus (James McAvoy), a faun who tells her about the White Witch (Tilda Swinton), who has placed a curse on the land, creating one hundred years of perpetual winter, and rules by instilling fear into the hearts of the inhabitants. Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Poppenwell) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) do not believe Lucy at first, but when Edmund is also drawn into Narnia he encounters the White Witch and is enchanted by her. Eventually, Peter and Susan also find themselves there, where they must join forces with Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson), a noble lion, and fight the forces of darkness.


The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of seven fantasy novels for children written by the Irish academic C S Lewis, who taught at Magdalen College, Oxford, between 1925 and 1954 and was then the Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge. Lewis was a friend of the author JRR Tolkien and both were members of the Oxford literary group known as the Inklings. The Narnia books were first published between 1950 and 1956 and drew on mythology and folk legends, as well as Christian religious themes. The story is influenced by the author’s religious beliefs and also by the events of World War II.

The books have caused some controversy over the years, with accusations that they advocate misogyny, racism and religious bigotry. Philip Pullman, the author of ‘His Dark Materials’, is a particularly vociferous critic of books. Equally, some religious groups have criticised the books, claiming them to promote paganism and interest in the occult, despite the fact that Lewis was a devote Christian. The release of the 2006 film version of ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’, the first of the seven books, renewed these debates, at a time when hostilities between Judeo-Christian and Muslim people was once again a serious cause for concern.

‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ was, at one time, when I was a young boy, my favourite book. It is probably 35 years or more since I last read it, but I remain very fond of C S Lewis as a writer, largely because of his space trilogy (published between 1938 and 1945) and ‘A Grief Observed’, the book published in 1961 following the death of his wife, the American poet Joy Gresham.

The Chronicles of Narnia is intended as a magical journey and never more is that apparent than in the first book. The film somehow fails to conjure up that magic, despite special effects that allows it to visualise Narnia, or perhaps for that very same reason. The special effects are allowed to drive the film and the magic is therefore lost. The 1988 BBC production, consisting of six 30-minute episodes, made for a production budget that would not even be 1% of that of the film, was quite simply better, although I wonder if perhaps my judgement is slightly skewed because I really wanted to be spellbound by the film.

The film critic Cynthia Fuchs best captures the problem encountered in the film, concluding her review by writing, “The children’s indoctrination seems less charming. They are warriors, drawn into killing and a general faith in militarism, into the sense that wars might solve problems, or at the least, beat them into submission. And that is very scary.” The magic becomes dissipated, much like the ‘Lord Of The Rings’ trilogy was ultimately undone by the insistence of Peter Jackson in making each battle bigger and louder than the last, thus taking away from the magic of the story. It is simply another example of CGI effects getting in the way. That the characterisation of the four leads is so bland and tissue-thin is also a factor.

Georgie Henley is very endearing in the role of Lucy and the other young actors portray their roles effectively, given that they have so little to work with. The majority of critics reserved most praise for the performance of Tilda Swinton. Overall, the reviews were generally positive and the film has a 75% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 202 collected reviews. The film had a whooping $180 million production budget and grossed in excess of $745 million at the box office, making it the second highest grossing film of 2005, behind ‘Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith’.

The second Chronicles of Narnia book, ‘Prince Caspian’ (based on publication dates, not the chronological order of the story), was made into a film in 2008. It had an even bigger production budget, but its box office gross was considerably lower than that of the first film, although it still grossed nearly $420 million.

Review posted 1 January 2009


No comments: