Movie Review by Nigel A. Messenger
Starring: Robert Norman, Colin Firth, Malcolm McDowell, Irene Jacobs
Director: Hugh Hudson
MY LIFE SO FAR is based on Sir Denis Foreman’s autobiographical book ‘Son of Adam’. Set between the World Wars it is a benignly observed period piece depicting the childhood wonder and growing pains of puckish ten year-old Fraser Pettigrew (played by debutant Robert Norman) during his final year at home before being sent to boarding school. He lives with his grandmother, parents, and five siblings on an idyllic estate in the Scottish Highlands. However, a series of events threatens to disturb the bucolic tranquillity of Fraser’s domestic life just as he is squaring up to the onset of adolescence.
The first part of the film is primarily concerned with Fraser’s relationship with his father, Edward (Colin Firth), a slightly eccentric inventor. Initially Fraser worships his father and his madcap ways, but when his burgeoning puberal curiosity leads him to read (and query) a collection of risque texts he has found, he is frustrated by his father’s stultifying responses to his questions. And when Edward’s stoicism ultimately gives way to hypocrisy Fraser experiences his first feelings of antagonism towards his father.
More conflict is evident in the relationship between Fraser’s uncle Morris (Malcolm McDowell) and Edward. The brothers’-in-law disagree about the best way to maximise the estate’s potential sources of income: Edward’s fanciful notions grating on Morris’s keen business sense. Matters are further complicated when Morris invites his beautiful French fiancee Heloise (Irene Jacobs) to stay at the estate. Everyone is enchanted by her free-spirited, fun loving approach to life, and her appearance is the catalyst for Fraser’s brusque induction into the world of adult relationships.
MY LIFE SO FAR is basically a good film (a pleasant story well-filmed), but it falls short of being a very good film because it is not involving enough. It fails to attain the same levels of drama and light-heartedness that is evident in other childhood biopics from a similar era (e.g. John Boorman’s HOPE AND GLORY). Characters are not developed substantially enough and as a result the viewer cannot summon a sufficient level of emotional investment to care about them. And too often potential plotlines are hinted at and then not fully developed (e.g. the Hairy Man who’s presence on the estate terrifies Fraser and his siblings).
With such promising material, an eclectic and talented cast, and the heavyweights behind the camera (Hudson, David Putnam), the lightweight whole of MY LIFE SO FAR fails to do justice to the parts involved.