We’ve all been to Richard Curtis World before: that idealised Middle England where rich people with huge houses and eccentric uncles play tennis on cliff-tops and laugh at rain. He’s as much a lifestyle brand as a filmmaker, and how much you enjoy his last work (he says) as writer/director depends on your tolerance for syrupy poshness.
When gawky ginger Tim (Gleeson, a former Weasley) learns the secrets of time travel from his father (Bill Nighy), even the method – standing politely in a wardrobe – feels quaintly outdated. Soon Tim’s mooning after Mary (Rachel McAdams) like a puppy with an erection, and it looks like we’re in for The Time Traveller’s Toff. But then Mary falls (improbably) into his arms, and Tim’s gift becomes little more than a plot device to whizz us through Curtis’s greatest hits: weddings, funerals, you know the drill.
It’s basically Life Actually, with some very sloppy writing. The rules of time travel change to fit Curtis’s loose agenda, and McAdams is never anything more than a cipher with a nice smile. Tim’s mum (Duncan) warns her that pretty girls don’t often develop personalities, a problem that afflicts most of the cast, who are either irritating kooks or blank-faced fantasies.
But Curtis, like Tim, has some great get-out-of-jail-free cards up his sleeve. Gleeson is a genuinely likeable and funny lead, Tom Holland steals every scene he’s in as a foul-mouthed playwright, and the father-son relationship sparks some moving exchanges. In short, even though you know Richard Curtis World doesn’t exist – couldn’t exist – it’s a nice place to visit.