Dir: Mark Palansky. UK.2006. 101mins

More of anexaggerated pantomime than a lyrical fable, Penelopestruggles to find the magical qualities that seemed to arise so effortlessly inEdward Scissorhandsor Amelie.The tale of a pig-faced girl's search for love and happiness is sweetly toldbut too often plays for easy laughs rather that true wonderment or heartfeltromance. The abundant charm of the central performances,especially that from James McAvoy, help tokeep the film afloat but this may just be too offbeat a project to cast thekind of spell that international audiences will find irresistible.

Thevictims of a family curse, Franklin Wilhern (RichardE Grant) and his wife Jessica (Catherine O'Hara) give birth to a daughter whohas the facial characteristics of a pig. The distressed couplefake the girl's death but years later Penelope (Christina Ricci) hasbecome a prisoner of her own home, trapped by self-loathing and the assumptionthat the world will find her hideous. Just like Bridget Jones she is lookingfor a Prince Charming who will love her just the way she is.

Dissolutegambler Max (James McAvoy) looks like a candidate forthe task but he is a fake, hired to pose as a potential suitor and snap aphotograph of Penelope for unscrupulous journalist Lemon (Peter Dinklage). He never suspects that he might genuine fall forthis latterday combination of Sleeping Beauty andCinderella.

AlthoughPenelope is light and likeable, itlacks Tim Burton's ability to create a believableworld that the viewer is invited to enter. Penelopewas clearly shot in London but seems to be set in a strange metropolis where a bevyof British actors (Lenny Henry, Ronnie Ancona etc)are lumbered with American accents and the phones seem to belong to the 1950s.

Weare frequently told that Penelope is hideous but the sight of Christina Ricci witha pig's snout is cute rather than grotesque; she is not a babe but she might bea Babe. The whole central premise is undermined by the fact that she is hardlylikely to scare anyone with a shred of decency in them.

Thefilm's bright look and breezy manner is reflected in a number of overstatedperformances but McAvoy more than rises to theoccasion. Relaxed and engaging, he has the natural magnetism of a true star andwins the audience in exactly the same way that he charms Penelope. Whatever itscommercial fate, Penelope offersfurther evidence that the ubiquitous Scot has arrived as a major moviepresence.

Stone Village Pictures
Type A Films
Tatira Active
Grosvenor Park Media

Hyde Park Entertainment

Robin Greenspun
Danny Greenspun
Andrew Molasky
Christian Arnold-Beutel
Dylan Russell
Michael Roban
Chris Curling

Reese Witherspoon
Scott Steindorff
Jennifer Simpson

Leslie Caveny

Michel Amathieu

Jon Gregory

Amanda McArthur

Joby Talbot

Main cast
Christina Ricci
James McAvoy
Catherine O'Hara
Peter Dinklage
Richard E. Grant
Reese Witherspoon
Simon Woods