“What’s the worst that can happen?” says the eponymous bear in Paddington 2, recently jailed for 10 years for robbery and “grievous bobbly harm”, and now working in the prison laundry where he has accidentally thrown a red sock in with the whites.
At this point just about every mum and granny in the cinema let out an involuntary “Noooo!” before the camera cut to a prison dining room filled with grumpy looking cons all wearing pink stripes.
The jokes in this sequel come as thick as the cute bear’s fur and as fast as the British thespian cameos. If you’re aren’t chuckling for 90% of the movie, your small child will be. I laughed so much I cried, and then I sad-cried too.
The film is set in the present day but harks back to an easier time when we rang each other from payphones and bought hard copy newspapers. It’s brimming with good nature, seemingly running on Aunt Lucy’s maxim that “If we are kind and polite the world will be right”. And we should listen as Lucy is about to be 100 (though she will probably put her great age down to gin and sex as 100 year old ladies are wont to do when questioned in that inevitable birthday interview).
I came out with a huge smile on my face, popcorn lost forever in my bra after I accidentally spat mouthfuls of it out mid-chuckle, and fervently hoping my favourite luvvies really do live on the same posh London street, wandering round all day in their PJs and dressing gowns like a job lot of Arthur Dents.
I’m also amazed any other middle class British films got made this year, as every beloved star of stage, screen and sitcom has presumably been working on Paddington 2.
The Brown family are still at Windsor Gardens, though as the children grow older some things have changed. Judy (Madeleine Harris) has started a newspaper and prints it off in their cellar. But Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) is now bored with uncool steam engines and is known as J-Dog. Mr Brown (Hugh Bonneville) is having a midlife crisis and has taken up Chacrobatics, a sort of athletic yoga; and having once been in a room with lots of ladies bending into impressively intestine-squishing positions, I can’t believe they filmed this scene without a single fart joke.
This time, Paddington (Ben Whishaw) is trying to find a special present for Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday. She’s never been to London as a previous trip was cancelled when she and her husband found Paddington as a cub and took him in. So when he finds a popup book in Mr Gruber’s shop, each page a London landmark, he is determined to buy it for her. But he has to save up, which means he gets a job (which, as he is both a millennial and an immigrant, should hopefully shut UKIP up, for about five minutes anyway).
Paddington’s most successful job is window cleaning. His technique, involving a bucket of soapy water and using his furry naked bottom as a chamois, is nothing if not inventive; if the Diet Coke Man had done that back in my day, I’d never have left the office.
But then he naively lets slip to local once-famous actor and now dog food promoter Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) about the book, and it is mysteriously stolen from the shop by a bearded man.
The book turns out to be a treasure map with the final prize a chest of jewels, hidden for decades and originally owned by a beautiful circus performer. And with Paddington mistakenly jailed for the theft, the coast is clear for Phoenix to don a serious of extraordinary costumes as he tracks down the answer to each clue in the book.
There is no sadder sight than a small bear being led slowly up Windsor Gardens in handcuffs – life without Paddington is a miserable one, as every British child discovers once they get to about 8.
The Browns’ neighbours suddenly find their lives less fulfilled and less fun without him around, no longer helping the bin man learn the Knowledge for his cab driver exams, or making breakfast for the woman who gives him a lift each morning on her bicycle, or bringing two neighbours together after cleaning the windows of a grimy house.
But Paddington is suffering too. In prison the food is terrible, even worse than that traditionally served in Britain’s top public schools. The prison cook’s name (and as an editor it genuinely pains me to type this) is NUCKEL’S. Or that’s what’s tattooed across his nuckel’s anyway.
Nuckel’s (Brendan Gleeson) and Paddington finally bond while making marmalade for the prisoners’ new breakfast sandwiches, and after that it turns out all the newly well-fed cons have secret recipes they’d like to share, from a chocolate roulade to a panacotta with raspberry jus.
Yes, cake really is transformative, as I have always said, usually while stuffing homemade French Fancies down the throats of people I wish to be fatter than me.
The film is choc-full of visual and verbal jokes. A newspaper headline is ‘”Get Out Of Jail Free” Card Not Legally Binding Says Judge.’ Mr Brown finds himself travelling at high speed, feet on two different steam trains, and luckily finds his inner Chakrobat as he gradually sinks into the splits while the trains move apart. And best of all, while chasing Paddington along the top of one of those very trains, Phoenix allows himself the conceit of saying “Exit bear, pursued by an actor!” a line worth the price of admission alone.
Grant is brilliant as ageing ham Phoenix. He plays more characters in this one movie than in all his other films put together, and not a floppy-haired fop in sight – well, only in old photos of Hugh Grant, displayed on a coffee table in Phoenix’s house.
His transformations include a nun, a scruffy bearded old man, and a knight in armour; and his attic room is filled with manequins wearing his old stage outfits. Whiling away the hours up there talking to the models and himself in various accents and Shakespearean quotes, he’s like an RSC Norman Bates.
Will Paddington be freed? Can the Browns stop Phoenix getting his grubby hands on the jewels? And what are the chances that HM Prison Service ever gets those whites back to their sparkling best? Well two out of three ain’t bad.