1 August 2008 | ackstasis
"I've got a unicorn"
Carol Reed is one of the few directors whose work I fervently wish to explore exhaustively in the near future. I made this decision on the basis of his post-War masterpiece 'The Third Man (1949),' perhaps one of the top ten films ever made, and my resources are currently strained in the frantic search for 'Odd Man Out (1947)' and 'The Fallen Idol (1948),' of which most speak with only the utmost praise. In the meantime, I managed to tape 'A Kid for Two Farthings (1955)' on late-night television, and, though it is one of Reed's more obscure offerings, I must say that I quite enjoyed it. Distinctly British in tone, the film is a gentle and warm-hearted fantasy film, depicted through adult eyes and designed to appeal both to children and to those who once were. Set in lower-class London, the story revolves around a bright young boy, Joe (Jonathan Ashmore), who uses his pocket-money to purchase what he believes to be an infant unicorn. Reed, even with what is relatively light fair, expertly captures the warmth and spirit of the working-class community.
In the hustle-and-bustle of London, a weary mother (Celia Johnson) takes care of her young son, Joe, waiting tiredly for the next letter from her husband, who is trying to make a living in the African colonies. Her neighbour Mr. Kandinsky (David Kossoff) runs a not-so-profitable tailor shop, and yearns above all else for a steam presser to make things easier for his aching bones. Mr. Kadinsky's diligent bodybuilding assistant Sam (Joe Robinson) has spent the last four years engaged to beautiful blonde Sonia (Diana Dors), but his meagre income has continually delayed their marriage; to raise the funds, he challenges a massive wrestler (Primo Carnera) to a professional bout in the ring. One day, when Joe is sent out to buy himself a puppy, he instead happens upon a runtish kid goat with a single paltry horn protruding from its forehead. Having remembered Mr. Kadinsky's tale about the magic powers of a unicorn, he immediately purchases the pathetic little creature, and so sets about improving the lives of his family and loved ones by drawing upon the wish-granting abilities of his newfound companion.
By the end of the film, Joe's young "unicorn" becomes a beaming symbol of hope for the story's main characters, and (arguably) triggers an unexpected upsurge in fortunes for the lower-class battlers. Strictly speaking, the story contains nothing that might be considered implausible in true life, but Edward Scaife's vivid Technicolor photography, particularly at night, highlights the artificiality of the shooting locations and studio sets, reinforcing the film's foundations in fantasy. David Kossoff provides the film's best performance as the wizened Jewish tailor, and Jonathan Ashmore is very enjoyable in the main role; his perfect elocution may conflict with his supposed lower-class upbringing, but it also makes his every word an absolute delight. 'A Kid for Two Farthings' is most certainly an outing in fantasy, only it distinguishes its fairytale by reflecting upon it from the nostalgic perspective of an adult, emphasising the importance of make-believe in the development of young minds in difficult times, and also perhaps suggesting that, even in adults, a lit bit of child-minded optimism doesn't go amiss.