Time Travel Thursday: An Angel for May (2002)
Time travel tropes7.5
Matthew Turner | On 25, Nov 2021
Director: Harley Cokeliss
Cast: Matthew Beard, Charlotte Wakefield, Tom Wilkinson, Geraldine James, Anna Massey, Julie Cox, Angeline Ball, Hugo Speer, Nina Wadia
Where to watch An Angel for May online in the UK: Amazon Prime
Has Boss Level whetted your appetite for more time travel titilation? Transport yourself no further than Time Travel Thursday, our column devoted to time travel movies. It’s on Thursday.
Directed by Harley Cokeliss and based on the novel by Melvin Burgess, this engaging British drama is set in South Yorkshire in the 1990s. Matthew Beard stars as Tom Collins, an unhappy schoolboy whose mother (Angeline Ball) has just got engaged to his games teacher (Hugo Speer). After chasing what he thinks is a stray dog, Tom finds the ruins of an old farmhouse, and when he sits inside the chimney during a thunderstorm, he’s transported fifty years into the past.
Tom is quickly befriended by May (future Holby City star Charlotte Wakefield, making her screen debut), a traumatised young orphan who’s been taken in by kindly farmer Sam Wheeler (Tom Wilkinson) after losing both her parents in a bomb attack. Tom’s presence at the farm brings great improvement in May’s life, but when he returns to his own time, he makes a devastating discovery that forces him to try and get back to the past.
The official synopsis for An Angel for May makes mention of a time machine, but it’s actually a time portal that only seems to work whenever there’s a thunderstorm – fortunately for Tom, there are quite a few in South Yorkshire. The film uses a cheap, but nonetheless effective, digital rippling effect for the time travel sequence, heightened by the use of underwater noises on the soundtrack. Tom’s explanation, back in his own time, is amusing: “I met this dog, see, and it pushed me back in time.”
Elsewhere, the script picks and chooses when it comes to the usual time travel tropes. A fair amount is made of Tom’s modern clothing (he has a top with “Slipknot” written on it), but he never really tells anyone he’s from a different time, or uses his future knowledge to reassure people that, say, the war is going to end in 1945.
On a similar note, the final act essentially involves Tom trying to change history, but the script doesn’t attempt to grapple with the potential ramifications of that, instead keeping the stakes very personal. To that end, it’s a sweet story with a strong message about basic human kindness and Cokeliss gets the tone exactly right, steering clear of mawkish sentimentality.
Cokeliss is aided by engaging performances across the board. Wilkinson, of course, can do twinkly-eyed decency in his sleep and he’s on fine form here. There’s also strong work from his fellow Full Monty co-star Hugo Speer, while Julie Cox makes a strong impression as Sam’s kind-hearted daughter, Alison. There’s some fun to be had spotting all the familiar faces. After all, this is a film with two Full Montys, a Commitment (Ball) and an EastEnder (Nina Wadia pops up in two scenes as a science teacher), alongside the likes of Anna Massey, Geraldine James and Dora Bryan, who had her first role in 1947.
However, it’s the two child actors who really make this work. Both Beard and Wakefield deliver earnest, heartfelt performances that compensate for the relative lack of story elsewhere. The dog (canine performer Tess, playing herself) is pretty good too, handily tripping a policeman at a fortuitous moment and that sort of thing.
The film also benefits from some authentic location work. It was filmed entirely in South and West Yorkshire, and cinematographer Stephen Smith gets the most out of the rural landscapes.
As a side note, be warned that the version of An Angel for May on Amazon Prime Video appears to have been accidentally uploaded from a screener copy, as a caption saying “Property of Spice Factory (UK)” pops up intermittently.
An Angel for May is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.