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Stars: Ben Whishaw (voice), Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Nicole Kidman, Peter Capaldi, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Matt Lucas, Michael Gambon (voice), Imelda Staunton (voice)

Director: Paul King

There are two things to say first about Paddington, in that a) no one ever seems to think it at all remarkable when they encounter a bear on the streets of London, let alone one that talks, and b) that this is a very funny film full of winning charm, blessed with an inspired script, smartly-edited slapstick, zingy, no-nonsense direction, and the most eccentric set of characters since Mary Poppins, played with abandon (but never foolishly so) by the entire cast.

And thank goodness there are no songs, apart from - another inspirational choice - a calypso band that forms a sort of Greek chorus to the action.

Deprived of his habitat in Darkest Peru by an earthquake, marmalade-loving bear cub Paddington, taught to speak by an English explorer, ends up in London, where Mrs Brown, a somewhat Bohemian mother (Hawkins, a joy), names him after the station on which he's found and, to the consternation of her stuffy husband (Bonneville) and two children, takes him in for the night.

Of course, bears will be bears, and Paddington, who wears only his uncle's floppy red hat, a souvenir from the explorer, climbs things and doesn't sleep in a bed. Unused to civilisation and mod cons, Paddington, taking a leaf from the scrapbook of Laurel and Hardy, is soon the begetter of one fine mess after another, as a series of domestic disasters ensues, which culminates in Mr Brown donning his sternest Lord Grantham voice, and decreeing that the bear must be re-housed in a suitable environment.

Of course, it isn't all bad news for Paddington: there's the incident in which he accidentally dons a policeman's helmet and whistle and brings down a purse snatcher. 'Peruvian growler,' blares the headline, 'catches Portobello prowler.'

Still, Paddington decides to run away - and straight into the clutches of the explorer's evil daughter (Kidman, deliciously channelling Cruella de Vil) whose 'Taxi' van's door slides back to reveal a chilling 'dermist' to complete her occupation.

Mrs Brown pursues, frantically going to the police. 'He's wearing a red hat,' she gasps, 'a blue duffel coat and...he's a bear. 'Hmm,' sniffs the PC on duty. 'It's not much to go on.'

Is Paddington stuffed? My lips are sealed, but stay seated for such sideline delights as a) Bonneville in drag, and b) a helpful Guardsman who serves Paddington tea and sandwiches from - you guessed it - his bearskin.

I haven't laughed so much at the cinema for ages. Please do look after this bear - he's a national treasure.

David Quinlan

UK 2014. UK Distributor: StudioCanal. Technicolor.
95 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 25 Nov 2014