Prince Caspian

Justine Toh reviews the film version of C.S. Lewis' Prince Caspian

Don’t be deceived: the title of the film may be Prince Caspian but the film really belongs to Lucy Pevensie. The four Pevensie children introduced us to the magical world of Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The Narnia Chronicles have always revered the power of childhood and Lucy, as the youngest Pevensie, epitomises childish innocence. In a Narnia ‘more savage than the one you remember’ Lucy may particularly be at risk, but a commitment to the innocence of childhood lies at the heart of Caspian, in many ways a better film than its predecessor.

When Susan, Edmund, Peter and Lucy venture back to Narnia it has been a year since they left, but in Narnian time that London absence equates to a millennium. Cair Paravel—the magnificent castle in which the Pevensies were crowned High Kings and Queens at the end of Lion—has been reduced to ruins and Telmarine enemies stand ready to conquer the country.

Narnia’s once-talking creatures have devolved into witless beasts and Aslan seems a myth from the distant past. Prince Caspian, the teenage nephew of the Telmarine tyrant Miraz has escaped assassination, and seeks Narnian help to reclaim his stolen crown. Leading a ragtag Narnian army against the superior battalions of Miraz, Caspian is less than overwhelmed when the Pevensies, back in childhood form, show up to help him out.

But in Caspian childhood is not to be underestimated. This is especially significant as Aslan, the children’s guide and saviour, is absent for much of Caspian, in contrast to Lion which was bolstered by his constant presence. In many ways Caspian is a meditation on how to live without the reassurance of Aslan’s company. For much of the film the Pevensies are left to muddle through—and muddle they do—on their own.

Since the next instalment of the Chronicles, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, sails into theatres in 2010, we’d best regard Caspian as the middle-child of a yet-to-be-completed trilogy. It shares with its cousins The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back a profound uneasiness that the first happy ending was mere luck and that the scrape now endured may prove too big a task. Anxiety underpins these films: in the absence of their mentors Aslan, Obi Wan and Gandalf, how can our heroes keep on hoping when all hope seems lost?

Peter’s solution to Aslan’s absence is to take charge, even though he doesn’t know what he’s doing. It is here that Caspian cleverly inverts the character arcs of Peter and Edmund from Lion with Peter now needing to learn his place. Last seen as the youthful but valiant and distinguished High King of Narnia, Peter is involved in a petty scuffle when Caspian begins; smarting that his London guise doesn’t express his kingly identity. Surprisingly Edmund proves the bigger grown-up in the situation, providing a hand of support, but more importantly, restraint. In Narnia, Peter’s impatience to act culminates in a horrible moment where he must confront the life-and-death ramifications of an ill-conceived midnight assault on Miraz’s castle. In a film of mostly sanitised battle scenes (it is a children’s movie after all) this sequence powerfully captures what is at stake: the lives of Peter’s faithful followers.

In Caspian Peter and his siblings are delivered the ironic lesson that they need to act their age

William Moseley successfully balances Peter’s gallantry and wounded ego while as Edmund, Skandar Keynes proves a reliable wing-man. Because his character has grown since his turn as the sneaky kid brother in Lion, Keynes doesn’t have much to do, though Edmund is given the chance to defeat an old, withering foe. As Susan, Anna Popplewell perfects a pubescent pout which has great effect on Prince Caspian, played by English newcomer Ben Barnes. His Caspian is a bit of a Ken-doll but there’s enough life in him to shoot some amorous glances Susan’s way. As Lucy, Georgie Henley is still rosy-cheeked and swathed in baby fat, proving she’s raring to go for Voyage and beyond. Peter Dinklage does a wonderful turn as the gruff but loyal dwarf Trumpkin and the Italian actor Sergio Castellitto injects Miraz with ample menace.

The Narnia films have, alongside the Harry Potter film series, chronicled the maturing of their child actors as the stories become increasingly more adult. Curiously however, the more ‘grown-up’ both series of books and films become, the more the innocence of childhood is prized. Though we must grow up, these stories seem to say, we should not be so anxious to grow up too soon, for we may lose what’s best about our youth: our innocence, our dependence on others, openness to experience, and ability to hope. In Caspian Peter and his siblings are delivered the ironic lesson that they need to act their age. This isn’t parental put-down but recognition that while they’re no longer helpless children they need to be grown up enough to know they can’t do everything on their own.

This is where Lucy comes into her own, for she knows this better than anyone else. Issuing from her faith, innocence and hope Lucy often speaks true wisdom but hers is a voice oft-silenced. If only her brothers and sister listened to her sooner; in fact, in the Narnia stories much bother would be saved by listening to Lucy, whose purity of spirit and heart ensures she is the first to see Aslan. Cynics may critique Caspian’s valorisation of childhood as a mere marketing ploy designed to court youngsters as the film’s prime target market, but such investment in the small and precious is also consistent with Jesus’ open arms: ‘Let the children come to me… for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’ (Matthew 19:14).

Justine Toh is a doctoral candidate in Critical and Cultural Studies at Macquarie University. Her research explores Hollywood film and American memorial culture in the light of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Topics & People in this post