Wondrous Oblivion is a charming film about fatherhood, cricket, and racism in that order. Like The Full Monty, which was about fatherhood, stripping, and unemployment, it manages to be both consistently funny and moving; as well as deceptively slight.
The film tells the story of David (Sam Smith), an 11-year-old Jewish boy who’s mad about cricket, but no good at it. When a West Indian family moves in next door, David is delighted, as not only does Dennis (Delroy Lindo) teach him how to play, he also has a pretty young daughter, Judy (Leonie Elliott). However, this is 1960 South London, and not all the neighbours are as welcoming to the new arrivals, which puts David and his parents, who are just about tolerated as acceptable (i.e. white) migrants, in an awkward position.
Like the aforementioned Full Monty, this weaves a number of darker, more interesting subplots around a fairly hackneyed central storyline. The real focus of the film is the struggle David’s parents face, as each deals with their second-class roles as housewife and Jew respectively. The arrival of the West Indians acts a catalyst for both of them, and while it might seem strange that the film focuses on them rather than the direct victims of racism, it’s a sensible dramatic choice, as it’s the Jewish family that are faced with choice in this case.
There are other potential objections, but the film succeeds despite them. The story is shamelessly old-fashioned, with an unconvincing feelgood ending, but the characters are well drawn and consequently believable. The script feels at times like a checklist of racial stereotypes, but the film is so liberal, so obviously without malice, that these quibbles are easily overlooked.
The reason the film succeeds is the quality of the writing and depth of characterisation. David is a sweet boy, but he is still an 11-year-old, with the selfishness and obstinacy of childhood. When David slights Judy in front of his friends, Dennis is obviously furious, yet we see what kind of parent he is when he invites her to make her own decision as to whether or not to forgive him.
It is this fine writing, along with moving performances from Lindo, and Emily Woof and Stanley Townsend as David’s parents, that give Wondrous Oblivion its surprising charm. It never quite reaches the heights of The Full Monty, but there are plenty of smiles along the way.