Short film review: MRS PEPPERCORN’S MAGICAL READING ROOM by Mike Le Han

06. April 2011

After a dozen docudramas for UK television as well as a fair amount of high profile commercials, the time was ripe for Mike Le Han to finally step over into fictional filmmaking. Armed with a moderate budget of about 25.000 pounds, bestselling author Martina Cole as executive producer and a highly motivated cast and crew, he created a 24-minute short film, that feels like a teaser for a big budget blockbuster. The impression is not exactly wrong. A feature version loosely based on the same story and characters is already in the works. But yet regardless of ambitious plans like these, „Mrs Peppercorn’s Magical Reading Room“ is an exceptional effort.

While other short films have trouble hiding their budgetary limitations, „Peppercorn“ conveys the impression of infinite funding resources: Authentic set-buildings, an original orchestral soundtrack, best quality of sound and visuals, panorama overhead shots and quite a number of CGI effects work (thanks to Nonius 3D, Illusion VFX, Fugitive Studios and Flipbook) that can easily keep up with international major productions. The convincing impression is mostly due to the filmmaker’s ability to motivate everybody involved to deliver their best regardless of financial restrictions.

Mrs Peppercorn’s Magical Reading Room | Mike Le Han

The story with its fairytale feel was written by Le Han and his wife Helen: 8 year old Eloise moves with her adoptive parents to the village of Black Lake, where wafts of mist roam the streets and some residents seem to know more than they are willing to tell. Quite withdrawn into herself and preferably buried in a book about magic and miracles, the little girl’s curiosity does not get aroused until she meets Mr and Mrs Libby, the slightly odd owners of the local bakery. They tell her about (supposedly dead) Mrs Peppercorn, proprietor of the empty library across the street, and her daughter who mysteriously vanished many years ago, leaving her baby girl behind. From there on, Eloise gets magically attracted by the deserted reading room, and soon enough her life will change forever.

Le Han’s film is a lesson in atmospheric consistency. From the first images, having the camera floating elegantly through winterly-dark alleyways with an off-narrator speaking of magical incidents while the credits are fading in and out in dissolving waves, over miraculous moments made of light and CGI, to the glorified final shot, Le Han conducts a dreamful mood in warm shades of brown without ever getting out of balance.

A lot of this is owed to the excellent camera work of Stephen Murphy who as an experienced steadycam operator (e.g. on Steve McQueen’s „Hunger“) has an infallible feel for smoothly floating imagery and how to perfectly frame every single shot. Above that, the romanticistic score by Kevin Kliesch, slightly reminiscent of Danny Elfman, provides with a narrative keynote that settles somewhere between Tim Burton and Brothers Grimm.

Mrs Peppercorn’s Magical Reading Room | Mike Le Han

Le Han publishing the first trailer last fall and talking extensively about the project via interview quickly caused a remarkable viral interest that brought names like Pathé and Paramount to the scene. A first award at the International Movie Trailer Festival added further attention to the project. Various articles compared the look of the trailer to early works of Guillermo del Toro, and the finished film still keeps that impression up.

On march 29th „Mrs Peppercorn’s Magical Reading Room“ had its BAFTA premiere and received enthusiastic reactions by 300+ guests. In the upcoming weeks Le Han will announce which steps might be next in promoting the short as well as the feature.

OT: Mrs Peppercorn’s Magical Reading Room (UK 2011). DIRECTOR: Mike Le Han. WRITERS: Mike Le Han, Helen Le Han. CINEMATOGRAPHY: Stephen Murphy. MUSIC: Kevin Kliesch. CAST: Emily Coggin, Jane Cox, Stephen Boyes, Margaret Jackman, Kerry Downing, Penny Ryder, Kris Sleater. RUNTIME: 24 minutes.

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[Images courtesy of Black Lake Films Limited]

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