2016 Certificate: 12

Synopsis

Young Conor (Lewis MacDougall) uses his artistic gifts to distract himself from the combined worries of a terminally ill mother (Felicity Jones), a fussy grandma (Sigourney Weaver) and the bullies at school. One night, a giant tree from a nearby graveyard (voiced by Liam Neeson) crashes into his life with three stories to tell... but it's up to Conor to work out his own ending. Director JS Bayona strikes a perfect balance between fairytale fantasy and heartbreaking reality in this captivating adaptation of Patrick Ness' family bestseller, scripted by the author himself.

Director

  • JA Bayona

Cast

  • Lewis MacDougall

  • Felicity Jones

  • Sigourney Weaver

  • Toby Kebbell

  • Ben Moor

  • Liam Neeson

  • James Melville

Review

The Big C has become a bit of a tearjerking cinematic staple - from Terms of Endearment to Shadowlands and from Love Story to Beginners.

However, combining cancer and childhood is an even trickier prospect with notable recent successes exemplified by the moving yet never morbid ​Me And Earl and the Dying Girl.

This, based on the bestselling novel by Patrick Ness, is a eye-pricklingly subtle chronicle of a young boy coming to terms with the reality that his single mom is dying.

Thirteen-year-old Conor O'Malley (newcomer MacDougall) is the victim of schoolyard bullies but - far, far worse - he lives in desperate hope that his divorced mother Lizzie (Jones) is just a treatment away from a cure for her cancer.

In the gloomy bedroom of his northern terraced house, he seeks solace in sketching but this distraction from grim reality becomes blurred when a 40ft-tall monster yew tree (a towering hybrid of Guardians of the Galaxy's Groot and chief Transformer Optimus Prime) hoves into terrifying view.

Voiced by Liam Neeson, the quivering mass of spindly branches and gnarled trunk, offers him a cryptic challenge - after relating three stories Conor will have to respond with his own tale.

At first the youngster doesn't have a clue...but then realises that there are no conveniently ready answers and - like his bewildered response to his mum's condition - he must learn to accept that compromise is the key when confronting life's grim hardships.

Director JS Bayona deftly maps out the plot - neatly working in Sigourney Weaver as Conor's bluntly pragmatic grandmother and Tony Kebbel as his kindly insufficient absent father.

The special effects - primarily Neeson's animated tree - sublimely serve the story as it builds to an inevitable conclusion that - while emotionally shattering - offers a glinting scintilla of hope and future happiness.

Answer the call.

Tim Evans