Peview: Paddington star Hugh Bonneville: “I was very nervous when I first picked up the script”

The stars get together to preview the new film, due next month.

DIY spent a cosy afternoon watching preview footage of the upcoming Paddington film in the company of stars Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin. Not only did we get to spend time with the charming Brown family and their housekeeper Mrs Bird but we also got to feast on a delicious afternoon tea of freshly baked scones, cakes and, of course, marmalade sandwiches. On the subject of marmalade, Madeleine Harris (Judy Brown) claims that, “Every room stank of the stuff. Oranges everywhere!” Julie Walters (Mrs Bird) agrees, “Mrs Bird was constantly making it.”

So what attracted stars such as Bonneville (Mr Brown) and Walters to the film? Well, they’re in agreement that the writing was the biggest factor. “It was the script really,” says Bonneville, “I was very nervous when I first picked it up because I thought, ‘I don’t want my childhood being messed with’. He’s such a vivid character for so many people, certainly in Britain. So I was very nervous when I started reading but within a page I was laughing out loud and was reminded of all the charming innocence and the warmth that Michael Bond put on the page.”

Walters too says the script was all in important in her decision to take the role of Mrs Bird, “Apart from the money?” she laughs, “I loved the script and I’d seen Paul’s film Bunny and The Bull which made me want to work with him. The script I thought was really funny and quirky and I loved Paddington, I love the idea of him. He’s an outsider needing to be brought in and there’s something wonderful about that and very inclusive in that way about understanding somebody who’s different.”

The children’s favourite is long overdue the big screen treatment. After a minor hiccough which saw Colin Firth as the voice of the eponymous bear replaced by Ben Whishaw, the main obstacle has been the marmalade sandwich worshipping bear himself, namely waiting for modern technology to catch up. Bonneville says, “Quite simply the technology wasn’t available to us. It’s wonderful that it has come to life, it’s been a painstaking process both for [producer] David Heyman and [writer/director] Paul King.” Young actor Samuel Joslin (Jonathan Brown) says, “I couldn’t really see him because most of the time he was a ball on a stick!”

We’re shown a number of short clips from the film, even with a few shots still incomplete it’s clear that Paddington himself is a marvel of CGI wizardry. Looking more bear-like than we’ve seen him before, although clearly still sporting his famous duffel coat and hat, we meet him as he chats with Mr Brown over a pot of tea and some cake. Whishaw is a perfect fit for the Peruvian bear. His light, breezy tones have an air of innocence but maintain Paddington’s occasional brusque manner. His table manners leave a lot to be desired at this stage as he impolitely wolfs down a slice of cake, spluttering crumbs as he answers the Brown’s questions. There’s a sweet moment where he relay’s his bear name to Bonneville’s Mr Brown who fails spectacularly to pronounce it.

Mega-star Nicole Kidman appears to be having enormous fun as the sinister Millicent, a taxidermist working at the Natural History Museum with a penchant for stuffing rare and endangered animals particularly of the “still alive” variety. Kidman looks to be a perfectly glorious, hissable villain. Haughty and cold she has quite the vicious glint in her eye when her animal supplier played by Kayvan Novak (Four Lions) tells her of a particular Peruvian bear who has just arrived in London…

The warm Mrs Brown (Sally Hawkins) differs somewhat from her stuffier husband. “Mr and Mrs Brown are quite different by nature. Back in the day they were both carefree spirits,” says Bonneville of their relationship. “Mrs Brown has managed to preserve something of that but as soon as they had children, Mr Brown became very beige, which is characterised in the film very visually. He’s become very risk-adverse and wants to protect his family from the outside world. Mrs Brown is much more open hearted and so there’s a tension, almost a fracture, in their family life at the beginning which Paddington’s arrival begins to heal.” We see Mrs Brown and Paddington with the kindly Mr Gruber (Jim Broadbent) in his cosy home which has a Wallace and Gromit vibe to it with an imaginatively designed invention involving a model train.

The final scene we’re shown is a charmingly slapstick affair where Paddington tries to return a wallet to a pickpocket who then assumes that he is being pursued by the short, furry arm of the law. What follows is an amusing chase with some smartly observed site gags that certainly bodes well for the laughter levels of the film. Bonneville sums up the film nicely, “There’s plenty of action in the film. There are thrills and spills obviously with a taxidermist around you sort of know where the plot is heading so there’s jeopardy that ramps up throughout the story.” He adds, “I’d like to reassure fans of the books that the fantastic heart of the story, of Michael Bond’s character, and the overall theme of someone looking for a home and finding it, the warm heart is pulsing through the film.”

Paddington is released in cinemas by StudioCanal on 28th November 2014.

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