A county fair decides to revive its pig competition, and a once-legendary farmer decides to compete one last time, betting his life savings on a thoroughbred piglet.
But when the farmer decides to breed young Edmund, the porcine youngster refuses to partake, forcing the farmer to challenge all he knows about pigs — not to mention love and life itself.
Writer-director Ben Ockrent — in conjunction with producer Benedict Turnbull and production company HAUS Pictures — has created a beautifully charming fairytale, skewed towards a more grown-up sensibility. From its stately, rhyming narration — elegantly delivered by Ian McKellan — to its warm, vibrant cinematography, the film takes an elevated, whimsical storybook aesthetic, equal parts classic Disney and French fabulist Jean-Pierre Jeunet, to spin a tale that is old-fashioned in feel but modern in its emotional intelligence and sensibility.
This fable — which was funded through the prestigious emerging talent fund with Creative England and BFI — begins with a classic framing device of a storybook’s pages turning, and the writing continued in its heightened, almost archetypal mode, with its emphasis on verse and other literary flourishes. The score also lends a note of lightness and charm, helping the rhythm of the story amble along nicely.
But as the narrative develops — and the pig is revealed to be gay, in a warmly comical sequence — the fairy tale genre is intelligently subverted, and the story becomes less about a magical pig and just as much about liberating the farmer from his own emotional straitjacket.
The visual lushness remains, as does the charming narration, but the resonance deepens as the narrative reflects the journey of the farmer, played with ornery magnificence by BATFA-winning English actor David Bradley, renowned for his roles on landmark entertainments like “Game of Thrones” and the “Harry Potter” films. He shares the screen with BAFTA winners Rebecca Front and Mark Bonnar, who make delightfully comic appearances.
What’s remarkable, though, is that the film retains its playful tone and feel as it enters more adult territory, rather than taking a turn towards bleak darkness. Though the visual tone and lighting gets moodier at a key point, the story retains its wit, sincerity and humor, even as the farmer contemplates drastic steps after sinking his life savings into a gay pig. The climax is heightened, funny and touching — and its aftermath is incredibly heartwarming and delightful.
Longlisted for a BAFTA, “Edmund the Magnificent” feels like a classic fabulist entertainment, in look, feel and execution. But in the fairy tales of old, good and evil are clearly delineated, and turning points are less about psychological revelation and more about overcoming obstacles to achieve an often fantastical desire, like a handsome prince or a beautiful kingdom. But this modern take imagines the fairy tale ending differently: it’s about accepting what life gives you with grace, and allowing it to expand your heart and spirit. The happiness we gain may not look the way we expect, but it’s no less sweet or hard-won.