About Time

About Time
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Director: Richard Curtis
Cert: 12A
Genre: Romance
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Margot Robbie, Matt Butcher
Running Time: 1 hr 23 mins

To say that the latest romantic comedy from Richard Curtis improves on his last effort is to say almost nothing. After The Boat That Rocked – among the worst British films of the past five years – all Richard needed to do was stop the camera from falling over to generate reports of a "return to form".

As it turns out, About Time is certainly the best he has yet directed and may be the best he has written since Four Weddings and a Funeral. (We sympathise with those grumps who regard all this as the faintest of praise.)

Though About Time is awash with temporal shenanigans, the core of the story, as in so much of Curtis's work, concerns the, um, love between two, erm, what's the word?. You know, slightly shy, posh people. (Rub hands through hair and stumble into the nearest pillar.) It's Domhnall Gleeson and Bill Nighy.

Calm down. Whereas it would be delightful to report that Curtis had hung his film around a romance involving two men from different generations, it transpires that Gleeson and Nighy are, in fact, playing son and father.


On Tim Lake’s 21st birthday, his dad reveals that all the chaps in the family have the ability to travel through time. Tim uses this unlikely power to help him woo a nice American lady (Rachel McAdams) and to detoxify many typically Curtisian social embarrassments. (Tip gin fizz over lady’s bosom and apologise profusely.) But, most movingly, he uses it to strengthen an already-strong bond with dad.

Let’s address the demerits in one quick swoop. No time travel film ever made (I defy you) has paid so little attention to its own internal logic: this bit makes that bit impossible; halfway through, we casually shift into a parallel universe; one character ignores an obvious solution to a terrible crisis. Also, the society depicted remains as stuffily middle-class, implausibly white and blandly polite as that in all other Curtis films.

Never mind. For all the richness of his red Irish blood, Gleeson brings flawless authenticity to the Maida Vale stammer and private school shuffle. McAdams is better than either Julia Roberts or Andie McDowell as the patented Curtis Yank. And the final rush towards emotional catharsis succeeds admirably on its own compromised terms.

If, as suggested, this really is Curtis’s last film as director, then it’s a good way to go out.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist