Movie Review: Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather

Certificate PG, 189 minutes

Director: Vadim Jean

Stars: David Jason, Marc Warren, Michelle Dockery

Hogfather is a fantasy, made for television (hence its length; it’s usually shown in two parts), film based on book of the same name by the late Sir Terry Pratchett, who has a cameo appearance late in the film. It is set in the Discworld, a rather unusual flat world that is carried through space on the backs of four elephants who, in turn, stand on the back of a turtle, the Great A’tuin.

It opens with one of the Auditors (the Auditors of Reality) visiting Lord Downey (David Warner), the leader of the Ankh-Morpork Assassins Guild. The Auditor wants to hire the assassins to “inhume” (the reverse of exhume) the Hogather. The Hogfather is a jolly fat man dressed in a red, fur-lined cape who travels around the Discworld on Hogswatch Night in a sleigh pulled by four wild boars, distributing presents to those that have been good. The Hogfather is a figure who closely resembles Santa Claus, although he lives in the Castle of Bones and is rather more associated with pork.

Lord Downey delegates the matter to Mr. Teatime (Marc Warren) – it’s pronounced “Te-ah-tim-eh” according to him – to kill the Hogfather. Mr. Teatime, a rather disturbing individual who has previously checked to see if a target was still breathing, as requested, even though the person’s head was some distance from their body at the time, has apparently already considered how to kill the Hogfather, and other, similar, anthropomorphic personifications, such as the Soul Cake Duck. He recruits a number of assistants; Medium Dave (Peter Guinness), that worthy’s child-like, but huge, brother, Banjo (Stephen Marcus), their associate Chickenwire (Craig Conway), Mr. Sideney (Nigel Planer), a wizard with some problems, and Mr. Brown (Geoffrey Hutchings), a locksmith. Mr. Teatime’s plan seems to involve invading the castle of the Tooth Fairy; why this is does not become apparent until later.

The Discworld’s death, known simply as Death (Ian Richardson), a large, cloaked skeleton with a scythe (whose mouth never opens, even though in the books he is known to enjoy the odd curry, so presumably it does), discovers the Auditor’s plot. Death has tangled with them in the past (the Auditors consider humans to be rather messy), but he is restricted in what he can do. Death is quite fond of humans himself, even if he tends to only meet them in a professional capacity, and on what is often the worst day of their lives (even if not the worst, they certainly don’t tend to have any worse ones after the meeting). So he decides to fill in for the Hogfather, accompanied by his manservant, Albert (David Jason – playing a different role in this to The Colour of Magic), and deliver the presents himself.

Susan (Michelle Dockery) is a young woman working as a governess, albeit a rather unusual one. She deals with monsters, such as the one in the cellar, with a poker, and threatens bogeymen. Susan has the ability to see such creatures, when normally she wouldn’t be able to. This is an ability “inherited” from her “grandfather.” When Susan discovers Death – and Death is her grandfather – delivering presents, she decides to take a look into matters herself, using the abilities she has and Death’s, currently unused, steed, Binky. This is a journey that takes her to many places, including to the wizards of the Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork, led by Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully (Joss Ackland), a strange group of mostly old men who are supposedly the wisest on the Discworld, although evidence doesn’t always back this up, and to the Castle of Bones, which is in a state of collapse, where she discovers Bilious (Rhodri Meilir), the Oh God of Hangovers. As Death travels the world in the Hogfather’s sleigh, attempting to keep belief in him alive and, as always, not always quite getting humans, strange events happen and Mr. Teatime continues with his mysterious plan involving the teeth that the Tooth Fairy has collected.

Hogfather is not the first Discworld book, nor is it even the first book in the series to be made into some sort of television adaptation, but it is the first live action adaptation to be done. Susan, also known as Susan Sto Helit, first made an appearance in the animated TV mini-series Soul Music, which is also the first true appearance of her in the novels, followed by Hogfather. Susan is the daughter of Death’s adopted daughter who, by the peculiar logic of the Discworld, has consequently “inherited” some of Death’s abilities. This enables her to look into the doings of the Auditors, something that Death is prohibited from doing himself. Death, for all that he frequently doesn’t grasp certain human customs – witness his creation of a Hogswatch card – also sometimes understands their motivations very well, and can subtly manipulate people to do what he wants.

This certainly seems to be a faithful adaptation of the book, but how much sense it will make to those who are unfamiliar with the Discworld series. Some bits are explained, but others are not, and various minor characters in this story are rather more important in others, and they are often therefore not discussed fully. Does Hogfather stand by itself? Truthfully, this is difficult to judge if you are familiar with the series – it certainly does work if you do know the series, but it’s hard to gauge what the lack of that knowledge will do to the story (such as who Bergholt Stuttley “Bloody Stupid” Johnson, the Discworld’s most disastrous architect and inventor, was). It does look wonderful and, just like the books, there are many subtle factors – watch out for Hex, the “thinking machine” that waves an hourglass whilst it is working and has “Ant Hill Inside.” Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather is a great adaptation of the book, that is well done and stays pretty faithful to the original story, that will probably be most enjoyable for Discworld fans but is well done enough that others should enjoy it too.


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