The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian


Rating 2¾

Directed by Andrew Adamson

Written by Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the novel by C S Lewis

Starring William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes, Sergio Castellito, Pierfrancesco Favino, Damián Alcázar, Peter Dinklage, Warwick Davis, Vincent Grass, Cornell John and Tilda Swinton (cameo appearance), plus the voices of Liam Neeson, Eddie Izzard, David Walliams and Ken Stott

The young Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), heir to the vacant throne of Telmarine, is helped to escape from a heavily fortified castle by his mentor Doctor Cornelius (Vincent Grass), fearing that Caspian’s uncle Miraz (Sergio Castellito), a Machiavellian presence in the court, intends to have him killed and claim the throne for his newly born son. Caspian flees on horseback into a supposedly haunted forest, pursued by soldiers loyal to Miraz. When suddenly confronted by two Narnian dwarves (played by Peter Dinklage and Warwick Davis) he panics and, afraid for his life, blows a magical horn given to him by Cornelius. Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmund Pevensie are suddenly swept from an underground station platform in World War Two-era London and back to Narnia, some thirteen hundred years after they had last been there. Together with Caspian, they team up with the many different inhabitants of Narnia to fight the tyranny of Miraz and the Telmarines.


In my pre-teenage years I read the seven novels by the medievalist and theologian C S Lewis that make up ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’. The first book, ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’, especially, was a particular favourite of mine, perhaps only challenged by the classic children’s novel ‘The Wind in the Willows’. I have never read the Narnia books again, although in my teenage years the C S Lewis space trilogy counted amongst my favourite novels and I have subsequently read other books he wrote, notably ‘A Grief Observed’.

In 2005, the film production company Walden Media made ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ with Walt Disney Pictures. Clearly motivated by the enormous commercial success of the ‘Harry Potter’ films and Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, it was intended to film all seven books. The film had a $180 million production budget and grossed over $745 million at the box office worldwide. ‘Prince Caspian’ is the second book in the series (the fourth in chronological sequence), written in 1949 and first published in 1951, and the second film, released into cinemas in 2008.

I was disappointed by the first film. It failed to capture my remembrance of the magical quality of the book. The early scenes when the children first discover the wardrobe that acts as a doorway into Narnia feel a little flat. Once Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson), the lion who Lewis intended as a kind of Christ figure, is introduced, the film seems to disintegrate into a mindlessly tedious planning and battle sequence that clearly hopes to capture the same audience as ‘The Lord of the Rings’. The second film is more successful, simply because the story lacks the magical tone of the first book, so there is less to live up to. Once again, the film amounts to little more than a battle and there are moments when more excitement could be had from watching a kettle boil, but it just seems to have a more satisfying feel to it and a surer hand at the helm (both films were directed by Andrew Adamson).

What immediately differentiates ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ from ‘Harry Potter’ is the strong Christian religious theme. In ‘Prince Caspian’ we not only get Aslan (Christ), but also a God/Father figure, in the form of the raging water. The books were intended as an allegory and this has resulted in a certain degree of controversy in more recent years, with claims that they are guilty of both sexism and racism. The time in which they were written is certainly a factor. Lewis was responding to the horror of the Second World War, much as did his close friend J R R Tolkien when writing ‘The Lord of the Rings’. However, there is undoubtedly a grain of truth in what has been suggested.

The accusation of sexism stems largely from the portrayal of Susan after ‘Prince Caspian’. She does not actually appear in any of the remaining five books, but is mentioned in two of them. It is the depiction of her in the final book ‘The Last Battle’ that has caused most comment, particularly in response to the description that, “she’s interested in nothing nowadays except lipstick and nylons and invitations.” It has been suggested that Lewis equated Susan to Judas, the biblical traitor. She seem to become, in his eyes, the antithesis of the Virgin Mary, although it should be born in mind that Lewis was an apologist who followed Anglican theology and was thought by some, including Tolkien, to have taken an anti-Catholic stance. Prior to 1931 when he converted to the Christian faith, at the age of 33, Lewis had been an atheist.

‘Prince Caspian’ could be accused of jingoism. The theme seems to be that we only truly come alive and find our destiny when we have a common enemy, one that is two-dimensionally evil and treacherous, and our goal should be to exterminate this enemy from the face of the Earth. I still find it disconcerting, just as I did with the first film, to see the four children so easily turned into warriors and watch them take the lives of others in battle.

William Moseley (Peter), Anna Popplewell (Susan), Georgie Henley (Lucy) and Skandar Keynes (Edmund) are effective in the lead roles. When first introduced, after the opening sequence in Narnia, they are in Strand underground station, which is now closed and, in fact, by the time of World War Two had been renamed Aldwych. Strand Station was opened in 1907, renamed Aldwych in 1915 and finally closed in 1994. In the book, the four children are standing on a railway station platform, not in an underground station.

It seems almost inconceivable that the film has a “PG” rating, given the level of violence, but such is our extremely skewed attitude to these things, it seems that children can apparently happily be shown violence like this, but never shown sex of any kind. Also, I would imagine the power of Disney had something to do with the certification.

‘Prince Caspian’ has a 66% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 174 reviews. In other words, 60 of the reviews collected are judged to have been unfavourable. It had an eye-watering production budget of $200 million (the special effects are very impressive) and grossed a little under $420 million at the box office. Walt Disney Pictures subsequently announced that it was pulling out of the agreement to make any further films. Walden Media has now teamed up with Twentieth Century Fox and ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ is due for release sometime in 2010.

Review posted 5 April 2009



KoolKara said...

Your photo certainly looks like an underground station to me. Especially a station in London. Have you been to London?

alienlanes said...

Yes, unfortunately I am only too familiar with London’s overcrowded underground system. I have walked past the now bricked-up entrance to the old Strand station many times.

KoolKara said...

Tell me about it. Everyone I know complains about the tube. Thankfully I cycle most of the time, to avoid it. Now I'm away from London, and can actually breathe the air.

As to my original point, I misread your post and clearly can't remember the books, so I apologize. You said that *in the books* they were standing on a rail station platform, not an underground station platform...whilst I misinterpreted that as *in the film*

Probably a sign that 3-4 hours of sleep a night ain't good enough...

Keep up the good blog!

And I agree, the film is watchable, but nothing special

alienlanes said...

I have taken up cycling recently, but heavy traffic unnerves me and unfortunately it is too far to cycle across London from west to east, a journey I have to undertake several days a week. The underground copes surprisingly well, given the comparative lack of investment for so long, but it’s too overcrowded.

Changing the subject, I note that the third Chronicles of Narnia film is scheduled for release in December 2010, assuming that it is still going ahead.