The films are:
Ballet Shoes, starring Emma Watson (Hermione Granger)
The Disappeared, starring Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy)
My Boy Jack, starring Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter)
Driving Lessons, starring Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley)
Ballet Shoes (2007)
The story centers around three orphaned babies taken in by an eccentric globetrotting archaeologist. While he travels the world the babies are cared for by his niece Sylvia (Emilia Fox), who was also taken in by her uncle when she was a little girl.
The three babies grow up to be three very different girls, with very different dreams. Pauline (Emma Watson) wants to be an actress, Posy (Lucy Boynton) wants to dance ballet, and Petrova (Yasmin Paige) wants to be a pilot. But money is tight and Sylvia struggles to make ends meet. To make money she opens the house to boarders, and as the years pass by, and the girls grow up, they are influenced by the colorful characters around them, and encouraged to chase their dreams.
This TV movie is a light little fare, as charming as it is simple. No conflict is too big, not to be solved in the next scene, and yet as the film skips from one character to the next, it develops a not too offensive, breezy style that prevents the material from becoming dull.
Emma Watson appears on screen in her first (and at present, only) non-Harry Potter role. She needs a makeover to truly step out of Hermione's shadow (I suggest short black hair and a tattoo), but she does enough here to convince me that she can go on to smaller and better things after Potter. She's a charming little devil for sure, as are all the girls here in fact.
The film won't appeal to anyone who wants to be challenged, but if you're looking for a nice little break on a Sunday afternoon, you could do worse.
The Disappeared (2008)
In the grim concrete jungle of suburban London Matthew Ryan returns home to live with his father, after a stint at a mental institution. It's been a few months since the disappearance of his younger brother, 8 year old Tom, and Matthew isn't quite himself yet. He tries to settle into his life again, but then he hears the voice of his brother on an old VHS tape, calling out his name. Matthew begins to suffer from horrible dreams at night, where he sees images of his brother being buried alive. As Matthew begins an investigation into Tom's disappearance, led by his visions, he starts to doubt his own sanity, as does everyone else around him. But his brother's voice, possibly from beyond the grave, grows ever louder and more insistent...
Ostensibly The Disappeared is yet another addition to the cannon of modern ghost films, which began when the Asian horror movies conquered the world. What separates The Disappeared from the rest of the bunch is that it's British. When the movie starts you'll feel like you're watching a classic, depressing, social-realistic, British drama. Most of the film is grey and colorless, and if you've been dieting solely on glossy American horror movies, your system might flat out reject this meal. That would be a shame, because after half an hour or so the film begins to work. The ghost aspect intensifies, along with the creepy sensation that there's something completely wrong in this neighborhood. Did I mention other kids go missing as well?
The Disappeared is not a terribly original film, in the sense that we've seen all the elements before, but it's a good, solid package, and there's nothing wrong with that. The second half of the film raises it above the average, and by the end I found myself hugging my stuffed penguin once again. Good, if somewhat raw, performances from lead Harry Treadaway, and Greg Wise, who plays Matthew's father, adds to the realism of the film, and they help to sell the scares very effectively.
Tom Felton plays Matthew's friend Simon. It's funny to see him in a straightforward role, but there he is. He walks, talks and acts like a completely ordinary boy, there's no trace of his Harry Potter character, including the ham-fisted acting and the grimaces. It's not Shakespeare, but it's believable. I wouldn't object to seeing him in another film.
Recommended, but give it a chance to get started.
My Boy Jack (2007)
This is the story about the famous author Rudyard Kipling, who wanted nothing more than to see his young boy Jack go to war for England in WWI. Jack himself just wants to get the hell out of the house. The only stumbling block is his bad eye-sight, but the Kiplings refuse to let that stop them. Strings are pulled. Favors are called in. And soon Jack is on his way to fight in the war. The most brutal war ever. A war where thousands of young men die every hour on the battlefront. A war that will almost certainly claim Jack's life as well.
This British TV movie marks the fourth non-Potter excursion for Daniel Radcliffe, who is nonetheless stuck with a pair of Potter-ish glasses, because the story specifically calls for it. I must admit I have absolutely no interest in the subject at hand, and getting through this damn thing was a bit of a chore. However, if you're interested in the period, or the historic characters on display, you'll probably be fairly entertained. If you're not, you'll find it impossible not to snicker at all the fake mustaches, or notice how everyone acts, as if they are Stephen Fry in The Black Adder series. Luckily the film pulls no punches when it comes to the war scenes. They are dirty, chaotic, and quite effective, clearly inspired by the likes of Saving Private Ryan, but then we go back to the colorful English countryside, just in time for afternoon tea, and you'll find yourself snickering again.
Kipling's eagerness to send his son to war is never properly explained, outside of a few clichéd speeches about being a man, and doing one's duty. And when he discovers the profound ramifications of his action, you're excused if you feel the desire to punch him in the face. Turns out... War is hell. Whoop-de-do! David Haig is quite obnoxious as Rudyard Kipling. He's like the uncle who just won't shut up with his damn stories! Haig plays the part with a self-indulgent, labored intensity that would be a better fit for a small amateur theater. Carey Mulligan is cute as his sister, but Kim Cattrall is bland as the mother, so the family scenes are definitely the weak link, and since they are the primary focus, instead of the struggles that Jack go through on the battlefield, I find this film hard to recommend.
As for Daniel Radcliffe, well.... He can smoke, drink, grow a beard, and go to war, but he still looks like he's a kid. In all fairness Radcliffe is supposed to look "too young" here, so I guess that's alright. I like Radcliffe a lot, but I would like to see him in a completely ordinary, current role. There are too many similarities with his wizard character here for Radcliffe to get out of Potter's shadow, but he's a good guy, and I have no doubt different and challenging parts will find their way to him eventually.
Few sane people will need a lesson in the cruelty of war, but My Boy Jack offers one anyway. Luckily you can decide for yourself if you want to call recess early.
Driving Lessons (2006)
A quiet young man, Ben (Rubert Grint), from a deeply religious family, is forced by his mother to take a summer job. He ends up as an assistant to the recluse, eccentric actress Evie (Julie Walters). At first he merely cleans up for her, but soon she drags him with her on some outlandish adventures, including a slightly improper camping trip. Along the way Evie makes Ben realize that there's a whole world out there, waiting to be conquered, meanwhile Ben's family is slowly falling apart, in a funny sort of way.
Driving Lessons starts a bit slow, with the introduction of Grint's character and his family of bible bashing nutbags. Ben is a loser, and for a moment it seems like this film is going to be very hard to get through. Well, Julie Walters quickly puts a stake through that idea. When she steps on to the stage the film explodes in a feast of loud profanities, and embarrassing eccentricities, culminating in a hilariously outrageous finale!
The film could be described as a British Scent of a Woman. Walters and Grint's banter, and the friendship that develops, are absolutely fantastic to watch. The best scenes are the ones with just the two of them, driving each other nuts. What makes the film work as a whole, though, are the tender scenes. "You have the soul of a poet, and that lasts a great deal longer than looks," Evie informs Ben, during one of the quiet moments. I'll have to remember that line the next time I'm on a date.
In the beginning of the film Rupert Grint plays the part pretty much like he played Ron from Harry Potter: Always sulking, and fairly obnoxious. One would think that's the only way he can act, but then suddenly the film comes to life, and so does he! He even looks like he's having fun! While Grint is not a massively versatile actor, he does alright for himself here. In fact, he scores far better co-stars than his fellow Potter stars, plus he's the first one of them to get laid on screen! That's gotta count for something.
Driving Lessons starts a bit slow, but after 35 minutes the film really jumps to life, and then there's no stopping it. But there's no question, it owes everything to Julie Walters' performance in the driving seat.
While Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe still have the best shot at a post-Potter career, in my mind, their films are the least successful of this bunch. Tom Felton's contribution, The Disappeared, surprised me the most, and I would consider it the best of the four, with Driving Lessons a close second.
Whether these four young actors have a chance in the future, remains to be seen. None of their performances in these films provide any clear indication, so I guess there's nothing to do but wait and see. In a couple of years we'll all be wiser.