When Jane Goldman is mentioned in the media, it's usually for something to do with her husband and family. But what people should be talking about as far as Jane Goldman is concerned is her work. She's one of the best British screenwriters around today, having had a had in some of the best and most successful UK-made films of the past decade or so – films such as Stardust, Kick-Ass, The Woman in Black X-Men: First Class and Kingsman: The Secret Service. Now she's adapted the classic Ransom Riggs novel Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children for director Tim Burton, and has helped him make his best film in years.
The children in the care of Miss Alma LeFay Peregrine (Eva Green) are very peculiar indeed. There's Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell), who's lighter than air and needs to wear lead boots else she'll float away. There's also the pyrokinetic teen Olive (Lauren McCrostie), invisible boy Millard (Cameron King), the incredibly strong little girl Bronwyn (Pixie Davies), Hugh (Milo Parker), a boy with bees living inside him, and Joseph and Thomas Odwell as the Masked Twins, who ... well, you'll have to see the film to learn all about them. These children, and others all live with Miss Peregrine in the home on an island off the coast of Wales, stuck in a time loop that ends with the Nazis dropping a bomb on the house – so they keep reliving the same day in 1943. Into their world comes American teen Jake (Asa Butterfield), who travels to Wales after the gruesome death of his beloved grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp) who used to tell him stories of the strange children who live din the care of Miss Peregrine (so named because her ability is to turn into a peregrine falcon).
Tim Burton has always excelled at making films about outsiders, and this is another in that vein – although Jake is rather more normal than the sort of outsiders he tends to populate his movies with
It's been a while since we've seen a great movie from Tim Burton, and this one is far more in the vein of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and Batman than Dark Shadows, Alice in Wonderland or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Burton and his cast have a lot of fun with the material, based on the best-selling young adult novel by Ransom Riggs. The film does take its time to get going, establishing Jake and his life in Florida before things turn strange and he and his dad (Chris O'Dowd ) head to Wales in search of answers. The movie really gets going when Jake somehow enters the time loop and makes his way to the orphanage, finding himself on a hero’s journey of sorts when he learns that the home is under threat from some evil "peculiars" led by the rather nasty Mr Barron – played with scenery-chewing glee by the always wonderful Samuel L Jackson.
Burton has always excelled at making films about outsiders, and this is another in that vein – although Jake is rather more normal than the sort of outsiders he tends to populate his movies with. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children certainly has the Burton signature elements of the weird and the macabre, but the frights are more of the Doctor Who level rather than the likes of Dario Argento, Sam Raimi or Takashi Miike. The cast all do a fine job too, with small roles from Judy Dench, Rupert Everett and Allison Janney adding to the fun. Butterfield is a strong presence, given that he has to carry most of the film, and he's grown into a fine young actor, equally adept at playing the self-assured hero as well as the wide-eyed newcomer overwhelmed by all the weirdness. Purnell is just wonderful as Emma, the young love interest for Jake (and who is granddad also had a bit of a thing for back in the day). And who wouldn't enjoy Eva Green as a pipe-smoking bad-ass wielding a crossbow and messing with time?
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is certainly not perfect. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, it's a little over-long at just over two hours and much of it feels a little over-familiar, like we've seen it before. But it's good natured, quirky and fun, and there are moments that show just what a genius and anarchic film-maker Tim Burton can be.