Director Iain Softley – who more than earned his spurs with his sterling 1997 adaptation of Henry James’s The Wings of a Dove – relishes the task of bringing German author Cornelia Funke’s quaint adventure novel to the screen, drawing a clutch of charismatic and amusingly hammy performances from his predominantly British cast while gently espousing the pleasures of reading.
Like last year’s guilty pleasure Enchanted, Inkheart plays on the fantastical possibilities of an overlap between fiction and reality, homing in on Fraser, who yet again essays another of his affable khaki-clad academics. He plays a ‘Silvertongue’ – no, not a stalwart on the regional blue comedy circuit – someone with the ability to bring the written word to life when he reads aloud. Problems arise when he inadvertently unleashes the megalomaniacal Capricorn (Serkis as an amalgam of Gollum and a camp Bond villain) into the world while simultaneously incarcerating his wife into the pages of the titular novel.
Setting off on a Euro-jaunt with his daughter Meggie (Bennett) in order to locate a rare volume of Inkheart and undo his myriad supernatural wrongs, he gathers a retinue of variously concerned/angered conscripts (Mirren, Broadbent and Bettany – all enjoyable), whose characters represent recognisable players from the fiction world, from the collector to the author to the endearing fictional side-player who’s eventually doomed to death. It’s a familiar tale, but one told with gusto, wit and visual flair; of particular note is the dilapidated Germanic fortress where Capricorn and his cronies reside, which looks like it was plucked straight from the warped mind of a Gilliam or a del Toro.