Adapted by Peter Milligan from the popular Melvin Burgess novel, the modestly-budged English film stars Matthew Beard as Tom, a 12-year-old boy struggling with the usual "broken family" issues when a dog lures him through a time portal and into blitz-era London. As it happens, the dog belongs to a troubled 10-year-old orphan named May (Charlotte Wakefield) whose parents were killed by German bombs. May has been taken in by kindly farmer Sam Wheeler (Tom Wilkinson) and his family, but still can't quite reconnect with the world. She's incommunicative, constantly dirty and emotionally remote. But something about Tom is able to penetrate her defenses in ways that others haven't, and the two become fast friends. It is almost as though stepping back to this period in time is some kind of preordained mission.
As sweet as the premise is, director Harley Cokeliss simply doesn't have the right touch to bring this tale off. It feels neither light nor imaginative and often lumbers along ponderously in a fashion better suited to heavy adult drama than buoyant children's fantasy. It doesn't necessarily lack quality moments--there's plenty there for adults and children to enjoy--but it also takes forever to find its groove, at least 15 minutes too long in what should have been a brisk and simple setup.
Still, it's difficult to be too rough on a movie like "An Angel for May" simply because the effort is so praiseworthy in its intentions. If it falls short, it's only because it aims so much higher than the dross that has come to represent acceptable family fare--easy, gag-driven material that increasingly centers on the likes of talking dogs and athletic chimps. It's certainly no "Secret Garden," though it's not without its share of modest blossoms. Starring Tom Wilkinson, Matthew Beard, Charlotte Wakefield, Hugo Speer, Anna Massey, Zoe Wanamaker and Geraldine James. Directed by Harley Cokeliss. Written by Peter Milligan. Produced by Michael Cowan. A Barzo Production. No distributor set. Family. Not yet rated. Running time: 101 min.