Well, I’ve just been to see the new Paddington film – the one Colin Firth bowed out of on account of not feeling up to being the voice of the most famous bear in literature, not including Winnie the Pooh. And yep, there were marmalade sandwiches at the launch.
One, it’s nothing like the book, apart from a couple of episodes. In the original, Mr Brown spots Paddington among the bicycles and both he and Mrs B are willing to take him on. In this version, Mr Brown, as played by Hugh Bonneville, is an ol’ curmudgeon, a risk assessor who regards bears as trouble and this one in particular as a threat to the children’s health and safety. There’s an odd prequel to the story, which gives us an account of how Paddington came to speak English (Aunt Lucy learned it from a visiting English explorer who tells them that they’d always be welcome in London) and like marmalade (the explorer again). There’s an utterly bizarre plot with Nicole Kidman as a kind of Cruella de Vil figure.
Two, this is propaganda for the little un’s, apparently designed to ensure they never vote Ukip. Paddington, who has always been London’s best loved illegal immigrant, here stands for every other immigrant. London, you see, so far from being the place that first welcomed Paddington in the first edition of the book in 1958, is now a suspicious and unwelcoming place. Aunt Lucy saw it all so differently when she promised Paddington that he’d find a welcome there, on the basis that England once welcomed the Kindertransport children (so handy, that explorer). ‘They will not have forgotten how to treat a stranger’, she says softly. Mr Gruber, the German Jewish antiques shop owner was, moreover, a Kindertransport child himself; he knows how it feels for the expatriate bear.
But cheer up, by the end it’s all fine. London takes Paddington to its heart and presumably also the lesson that it must do the same for non ursine arrivals. Mrs Brown, who was always the nice one, assures everyone that ‘it doesn’t matter that [Paddington] comes from the other side of the world or another species. He’s family and families stick together.’ And Paddington reflects happily at the end: ‘Mrs Brown says in London everyone is different, everyone can fit in.’ And to reinforce the point, the West Indian steel band breaks into a chorus of ‘London is the place for me’. I hope that’s all clear.
You could of course take entirely the opposite view, viz, that London was welcoming in 1958 for Paddington precisely because immigrants were rather fewer in number. If a million bears, net, were arriving every decade to the capital, why, it could explain why people are a bit less affable. But that would not be the moral intended.