The bad guy
When you think of villains, you don’t necessarily think of Hugh Grant. But the much-loved toff plays an absolute blinder with his portrayal of conniving old has-been Phoenix Buchanan. The character is an over-the-hill West End star and neighbour of our beloved bear, who rubs us up the wrong way when he steals an illustrated pop-up book of London that Paddington has his sights set on for his cherished Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday.
Unbeknown to our marmalade-loving friend, the antique book contains clues leading to a stash of hidden treasure, which Buchanan plans to use to fund his one-man show and relaunch his stage career, meanwhile framing a forlorn Paddington for the crime.
Your kids will delight in the theatrics of it all, with Grant disguising himself as a nun, a knight and a vagabond in his quest to uncover the riches, with Paddington in hot pursuit on the back of a wolfish hound. The adults will find themselves howling at its ludicrousness and the brilliant humour in both writing and execution.
Director Paul King says Grant revelled in the ridiculousness of the role. “Hugh is a very sardonic wit," he says. "He refused to take himself seriously at any point, which is quite essential for a part like this. He was full of anecdotes of his old days in theatrical rep working with these preposterous old theatre types and so I think he had lots of fun setting the whole thing up.
“He was a real treat and I think he had to work very hard for the part as well. The first day of filming he did this big song and dance sequence so it was a lot of work and a real baptism of fire, but he was terrific – he really threw himself into it.”
Paddington has become a lynchpin of the Windsor Gardens community and is a favourite with the neighbours. But the young bear finds his reputation in tatters after being wrongly incarcerated for the theft of that pop-up book.
Prison life doesn’t get off to a great start when Paddington accidently dyes all of the inmates’ uniforms pink, and he seems to go from the frying pan to the fire when he accidently insults the scary prison chef Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson to us, Mad Eye Moody to the kids). But despite some claw-biting moments, the tougher inmates soon develop an affinity for the little bear, and the unlikely friendships show the little ones that you can’t always judge a book by its cover. But will Paddington be able to clear his name?
“We really wanted to see what Paddington would be like in a different environment,” says King. “Like in the first film he wins over Mr Brown, but Mr Brown isn’t a physical threat so we thought it would be fun to send him to the big house where he meets Brendan who plays Knuckles McGinty, the big, fearsome prison chief, and he’s just brilliant.
“Brendon managed to bring so much warmth and humanity to it as well. He’s not just this big, old goon, he’s really got a heart of gold and I think he does such a good job treading that fine line between comedy and reality – he’s just brilliant and so funny. No one can be mean to Paddington for long.”
Not unlike Knuckles, King also found himself enamoured with the sweet-hearted young bear – over three decades ago when he watched the Paddington cartoons as a young child back in the ’70s.
“One of my very first memories is lying on the living room rug watching them at lunchtime and I didn’t realise at the time how beautiful they were. I just thought Paddington was sweet and funny and I just enjoyed them.
“Then coming back to them as a grown-up you go, ‘They’re really beautiful bits of work’, and it’s no wonder they’ve made an impact because they’re really lovely.”
And King hopes that others will continue to share in his love for Paddington. The director adds: “He’s such a small, sweet-natured character that you sort of wonder why he is still so popular.
“It’s not the loudest movie with the biggest explosions and he’s a very kind-hearted soul but I think the values that made him popular in the book; the humour and the kindness and the good intention and the goodwill to his fellow creatures seem to be universal and timeless.
And that’s a very nice thing to discover about the world – that we all rather enjoy spending time in the company of a very polite, kind little bear.”
The box office
After the success of the first Paddington movie, King admits that the pressure is on for the sequel, and in a sea of big action movies, he hopes that Paddington still strikes a chord with an audience.
“What I always wanted was the films to feel like just a nice way to spend a couple of hours and hopefully other people will feel the same,” he says. “It’s not the sort of feeling you get when you go and see Mission: Impossible where you want to be on the edge of your seat and be really excited. It’s a different mood and I think it’s a very warm and friendly one.”
But are there any plans for part three? “I think it all depends on how well this one goes really,” concedes King. “There’s lots of source material and there’s lots of Michael Bond stories to build from so we would love to do one, but we just have to see if there’s the kind of appetite from an audience around the world for it really, because it’s very expensive and difficult to make. But if there’s an audience for it then we’d love to do more.”
Paddington 2 is in cinemas now.