My suspension of disbelief does not extend to geography…

I was slightly dubious of whether Richard Curtis’ latest offering would captivate me in the way that Love, Actually or Four Weddings continues to do so. It had received some negative reviews and appeared to be more of a ‘male’ film than a chick-flick rom-com. Oh, and Curtis had done himself no favours by revealing in an interview that 500 Days of Summer was one of his favourite films. [See here for reasons why I strongly disagree with such an opinion.] But, following a positive Kermodian review, I was keen to see it.

The stars aligned last Friday, when, with time to kill on my day off, and intention to visit Stratfield (Stratford Westfield, for the uninitiated) later that day, a showing was timed perfectly. It was meant to be.

About-Time-UK-Quad-Poster-585x443A friend of mine has apparently been put off seeing the film by the use (or non-use) of capitalisation on the poster…

About Time has a plot that revolves around time-travel, which was another reason for my hesitation. I’m still of the mindset that The Time Traveller’s Wife is the most perfect example of such a plot. (So much so that I still can’t bear to watch the film lest the book be ruined forever.) Would it get silly? Would it go all sci-fi? Would I be able to suspend my disbelief for long enough that I could become absorbed in a tale that realistically could never happen?

I can confirm that no, it did not get silly. No, it did not go all sci-fi. And yes, I was able to suspend my disbelief around time travel, and Curtis’ associated rules about it, for long enough to become both totally absorbed and virtually unconsolable at the plot’s end.

Rules? Everyone who writes about time-travel has to have rules. In the TTW the time traveller always sheds his clothes when travelling through time; he arrives in the precise state he was in in the future; and he can’t control when or how the travelling takes place. Back to the Future has its own set – I’d explain them, but I’m not that much of a geek. For one to be able to suspend their disbelief, one needs a set of rules that outline the parameters within which this works – time travel doesn’t exist, but at least if there are rules, one can pretend it does. So, in About Time, the male line of one family find themselves able to travel back in time by standing in a dark place and clenching their fists. Once they start having children, they can’t go back to before the child was born otherwise it’s a different sense. Totally logical – and, in the case of the latter rule, it emerges to be totally heart-wrenching.

So, last Friday, I blissfully ignored the rules of physics and wholeheartedly submerged myself in a world in which men travel through time in order to pursue the loves of their lives. However, I snapped out of my other-world-ness when time-travel was required to return to a party taking place in Collingham Gardens, South Kensington…

London is the main character in most Curtis films and About Time is no exception. I love seeing places I recognise, and visit frequently – heck, I even wonder if I might appear completely by chance. (One major plot point in the film involves the unusual restaurant in which a friend had their birthday meal a couple of years ago – I feel like she was way ahead of the game.) You may have no idea where Collingham Gardens is – it’s a fairly typical Kensington terraced street, full of delightful and large white houses with balconies – but I do, because I go there at least once a week. In the middle of Collingham Gardens is a church, the very church into which my theological college moved this time last year. As soon as the name was uttered I gasped in surprise – much to my neighbours’ confusion. (A pair of teenage girls who were irritating throughout, I’m glad I startled them.) In case you think I’m a weirdo, I discovered on Monday that a friend from college did the exact same thing when she saw it the following day – we spent part of our lunch break trying to work out which building they’d used.

Here’s the thing, following their attendance at a party in the aforementioned street, the couple central to the plot then walk all the way to Maida Vale. I may walk huge distances in London, but all of a sudden my mind was pondering whether it was actually within the realms of reality to walk from Collingham Gardens to Maida Vale tube station. The main character had just travelled from the Tate Modern three weeks in the future in order to be at this party, but what did I have an issue with? A possibly unrealistic use of London geography!

It bothered me so much that after the film (and after the obligatory check for mascara that may have run down my cheeks while sobbing), I looked it up on Google maps. According to Google, the walk would take 1 hour 6 minutes, which in a romantic post-dinner, first date scenario is pretty believable.

Collingham Gardens to Maida Vale The beauty of this map is that you can also see the route I take home from Collingham Gardens. My 5 mile walk takes me along the A4 (Brompton Road & Piccadilly) and the A401 (Shaftesbury Ave) and takes me around 1 hour 30mins. It’s a joy.

Richard Curtis, I apologise. You know London (and probably Kensington) well enough not to include spurious or incorrect geographical references in your work. Thank you for making such a lovely, yet emotionally wrangling film. Next time, could you consider providing post-film counselling? It would be much appreciated.


  1. I had a similar experience whilst at vicar school in Bristol. The local church interior was used by BBC’s Casualty for the plot, but as they left the parish church the view was breathtaking; particularly as the church in question has no view at all, in reality. Since the move of Casualty to South Wales, I’ve lost the opportunity of reminiscing with my family over familiar views of Bristol.

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