A clever orphan and his scam-artist guardian—an odd couple in wartime London—explore the space between legally wrong and morally right.
Engaging and comic, Evans’ U.S. debut takes a different slant on Britain during World War II, focusing less on the heroism, more on the seedy underbelly where frauds and crimes flourished while the nation was preoccupied with beating Hitler. Vera Sedge is one such petty trickster, claiming to be collecting for war charities, then pocketing her gains. But she’s not very good at it until an unpredictably gifted evacuee, Noel Bostock, joins the household and reorganizes her methods. Ten-year-old Noel, a loner with a leg damaged by polio, is mourning the death of his eccentric godmother, Mattie, whose quirky perspective shaped his thinking. Unlikely allies, Noel and Vera are the most prominent figures in a crowd of homefront characters that includes Vera’s even dodgier son, Donald, some surprising old ladies, and the assorted ranks of those not suitable to join the fighting forces. Aided by spot-on dialogue and low-key charm, Evans does a noticeably good job of spanning a wide range of emotional notes, from genuine sadness to absurd humor: Vera, for example, is injured during a bombing raid not by the bombs themselves but by an ambulance door slamming her in the face. While the privations and terrors of life during a time of rationing and sudden death are poignantly registered, there’s also a funny side, even to swindlers. And while everyone is trying to keep calm and carry on, Noel and Vera, assisted by strokes of fortune and a little arm-twisting, eventually succeed in this, too.
A dark, cherishable, very English comedy about not-so-funny times and events.