I am very much of the opinion that Richard Curtis, a man who has brought us such cinematic delights as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love Actually, and now the charms of About Time, leads a charmed, romantically rarefied existence far beyond the reach of the rest of we reality-blighted mortals.
How else to explain how easily he melds tales of love and loss so seamlessly together that they don’t seem like polar opposites but rather part of the one organic whole, perfectly compatible companions on the journey of life?
Which of course if exactly what they are, essentially two sides of the side coin, one really not making sense without the other but this is not readily apparent in much of Western storytelling, particularly that of the modern ilk, where love is all you need, or death becomes and utterly consumes you, and never the twain shall meet.
His gift as a writer and filmmaker – he both writes and directs About Time – is that he reminds us that the two belong together, and that for love to truly make sense, we must know what it is to have it wrenched from our hands by death’s cruel, uncaring hands, even if temporarily.
All this rhapsodising about love and death of course makes About Time sound like an excursion into Jean Paul Sartre-saturated existential angst when it is really nothing of the sort.
Rather it is a supremely touching, funny and intelligently-written essay on the richness and beauty of love, of the people it brings to you, the bonds it creates and sustains, and how quickly it can be taken from you, if but for a moment, before resuming its enriching course.
It is a lesson that takes a lifetime to lesson, or if you’re Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson), the latest in a long line of time-travelling Lake men, several lifetimes crammed into one oft-repeated existence.
Tipped off to his family’s extraordinary abilities as an initially incredulous 21 year old, who thinks that table tennis-mad father (Bill Nighy), with whom he is close, has gone stark raving bonkers, he soon discovers that he does indeed have the ability to pop back and forth, within limits, across the linear landscape.
The one catch is he can only travel to events within his own lifetime – which as his father points out means you can’t go back and assassinate Hitler or sleep with Helen of Tory – and only those that occur since the birth of his most recent child.
The reflex reaction of course to news of this kind is to sculpt plans to acquire limitless wealth and power, but Tim’s father scotches those ideas early on, encouraging his son, who is desperately close to his beloved and trouble sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) and to a lesser extent his remote and coldly sensible but loving mother (Lindsay Duncan), to make his ability count for the betterment of his life, not necessarily the material enrichment of it.
Like anyone with a new abilities, Tim stumbles a little at first, not realising that correcting one anomaly in his life can tip the balance of human existence such that another part teeters out of kilter, a pandora’s box of possibilities that it takes him some time to master and which almost costs him the presence of the woman who becomes his great love, wife and mother of his children Mary (Rachel McAdams).
But master it he does, and taking his father’s snippets of advice to heart, acknowledges that he will never be able to truly smooth out all of time’s wrinkles, no matter how accomplished his linear hops become, and that he must take care to preserve what really matters above all else.
Chasing a perfect existence isn’t within our grasp, reminds his father, life being “a mixed bags for all us – look at Jesus Christ, he was the son of God and look how life turned out for him” and once Tim understands this, his life is transformed in small, but subtly important ways.
The genius of Richard Curtis’s tales of love and loss, especially apparent in About Time where the preciousness of life with those we love is underscored in profoundly moving ways that never veer into the emotionally manipulative, all backed by a pitch-perfect soundtrack, is that he makes the very building blocks of life, the things we often overlook, appear magical, as if viewed through the most beautiful of rose-coloured glasses.
Of course Tim’s life, in common with our own, is not even close to magical, though it is profoundly happy, quirky and enjoyable in more ways than it is not, but he soon understands to value what he has, not to chase what he can never have within his grasp, and to be profoundly grateful for the time, which is limited even for the extraordinary men of the Lake family.
If About Time has one lesson, and it is not really a moralising-heavy movie despite the themes it weaves into its wholly-engrossing narrative, its that we should always take care to value life as we are passing through it, living in such a way that every thought and action is carefully thought through and done right the first and only time that we have available to us.
In the end, it’s not that Richard Curtis, or any of his characters for that matter, live in a romantically rarefied world far above our own; its simply that they have learnt to value what matters, ignore what is not, and fill their lives to the brim with every wonderful thing in between, holding it close for as long as life affords you that precious luxury.
*Oh and make sure you have someone you love close by when you see it; trust me, you will want to hold them close and not let them go for quite some time after the credits have rolled.
And here are some featurettes on About Time, which give you some lovely insights into this beautiful movie …