An Angel for May Review

Yorkshire, the present day. Tom Collins (Matthew Beard) has problems. His parents are separated, and he lives with his mother (Angeline Ball). To make things worse, she’s seeing his games master, Bob (Hugo Speer). One day Tom follows a dog into a ruined farmhouse…and finds himself in a Yorkshire in the middle of World War II, fifty years before he was born, where he meets a young girl called May (Charlotte Wakefield).

On Melvin Burgess bibliographies, An Angel for May is listed as being “for younger readers”. In other words, it doesn’t deal with such controversial subjects as teenage sex and drugtaking, like some of his other teenage novels such as Junk, Lady: My Life as a Bitch and Doing It. This film version, made for TV but shown on the big screen in festivals, is very much suitable for family viewing – with only some mild language likely to upset the parents of the very young. An Angel for May is a timeslip story in the tradition of Philippa Pearce’s novel Tom’s Midnight Garden (itself filmed in 1999, though some of us are of an age to remember the BBC’s children’s serial of 1974). A troubled, lonely boy goes back into the past (by fantasy means) and finds love, or at least a soulmate, back then. But he can’t stay there…or can he? And the ending – which I won’t give away – is squarely in that tradition, though for a while you do wonder if Burgess and screenwriter Peter Milligan really will go through with an ending which would be far too bleak for the intended audience to take. Even so, you may well have “something in your eye” by the time the final credits roll.

American-born Harley Cokeliss (né Cokliss, presumably changed to avoid the obvious jokes) has worked on both sides of the Atlantic and on both big screens and small. He has one Children’s Film Foundation (who are a co-producer on the present film) favourite on his CV with the 1977 feature Glitterball. He’s a capable but rather anonymous director, but he does a good job here, with an occasionally-obvious low budget and some ropey CGI work letting the production down. Stephen Smith’s camerawork is top-notch. Performances from a strong cast are professional all the way down the line, and Cokeliss gets good work from his two child leads.

An Angel for May is released on an all-regions PAL disc, with ten percent of the profits going to the War Child charity.

The DVD is transferred in a ratio slightly narrower than the theatrical ratio of 1.85:1, and a little wider than the TV one of 16:9. The upshot of this are thin black bars top and bottom which on most sets will be lost to overscan. As for the transfer itself, it’s a good but not great one: soft in places, with some minor artefacting.

According to the end credits, the film has a Dolby Digital soundtrack, but all we have on the disc is a 2.0 mix, which would correspond to what was broadcast on TV. With your amp in analogue mode, this results in an unspectacular Dolby Surround mix, with the surrounds used mostly for the music score. They do come into life during the time portal sequences, and when some planes fly overhead, but this is not something to show off your sound system with. Dialogue is clear – though some strong Yorkshire accents may cause problems for some. Basically, this is a soundtrack which does its job and little more than that. There are no subtitles of any kind, which should not be acceptable nowadays.

The only extras are a trailer (2:23), which is riddled with plot spoilers, and a short promotional film for War Child (3:49). Both of these are non-anamorphic, in a ratio of 1.78:1.

I’m not in the habit of recommending a DVD simply because profits go to charity: it should be a film worth watching as well. Thankfully, An Angel for May is well worth seeing – as a film that all the family can enjoy, and a lesser-sung item for fantasy-genre aficionados to seek out. The DVD isn’t spectacular, but it serves its purpose well enough.

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