Tom's Column - December 22/January 23
At A Time Of Great Division, Films And TV Teach The Value Of Being Nice by Tom Beasley
Anyone who knows me at all will know that I love Paddington Bear. And when I say that I love Paddington Bear, I don't mean that I liked the delightful sketch with the Queen that aired before the Platinum Jubilee concert earlier this year. I mean that, since the first big screen Paddington movie came out in 2014, I have dived into a headlong obsession with Michael Bond's ursine creation.
I recently included Paddington 2 on my voting ballot for the list of greatest movies of all time in Sight & Sound magazine and my desk plays host to three Paddingtons, as well as a framed version of the character's mantra that “if you are kind and polite, the world will be right”. People buy me Paddington-themed gifts for every birthday and Christmas, and I'm guaranteed to get a handful of messages on social media whenever the character is in the news.
The reason I mention all this is because of the reason I have such an appreciation for Paddington and, particularly, the modern iteration of the character. It's all about niceness. I write this in November, with the new government of Rishi Sunak just beginning to spread its wings after the quite incredible political demise of Liz Truss. It's a time of chaos, turmoil and acrimony in the UK – wherever you sit on the ideological spectrum.
Times like these are the times when I most enjoy leaning on films and TV shows that foreground niceness. The Paddington films are an absolutely perfect example of this and they have been given further poignancy in recent months. Many on social media were cynical about the way Paddington became associated with the Queen after the Jubilee, but the BBC's decision to air Paddington 2 after Her Majesty's funeral in September felt like a statement of how strongly the character can bring people together.
Another cultural moment to arise in recent months within this context is the football documentary series Welcome to Wrexham, which is available in the UK via Disney+. It follows the fortunes of Wrexham AFC, one of the world's oldest football teams, in the wake of their acquisition by Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. The docuseries could easily have been a vanity project about Deadpool and that guy from that sitcom helping out a little Welsh football club with their deep pockets – I certainly held quite a cynical viewpoint before watching it – but it's something vastly different to that.
Reynolds and McElhenney feel like supporting characters in the show, which is predominantly about the club and its importance to the community. One of the main characters is the gaffer of the local pub and another is a devoted fan who hosts a podcast about the team. There's considerably more time spent with these people than with the A-listers digging their hands into their pockets. Part of the emotional heft of the journey comes from watching Reynolds and McElhenney fall for the club and the people of Wrexham – by the end they're driven as much by love as by money. It's about the grind of lower-league football and the joy that even minor success can bring to a community that has so much invested in their team.
I think that struck a chord as somebody from Coventry, given the last decade or so of wrangling and chaos around our own football team. That's true now to the extent that I don't know if we'll have a stadium or the ability to sign players by the time you read this article. Welcome to Wrexham, in that respect, is a heart-warming portrait of the way sport can unite people – at a time when the UK is fraught with division in almost every way.
While most of us won't have a Peruvian bear or the financial heft of a superhero actor to help us, one of the joys of film and TV is that it allows us to escape to a world where that's possible. And sometimes – as much as dark and gritty movies have their place – that's what we want as we move into what could be a difficult Christmas for many. Being nice is very underrated.
© 2022 Tom Beasley
The opinions expressed in this article are personal to Tom Beasley. Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist living just outside London and originally from Coventry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.