Written by Paul King and Simon Farnaby, Paddington 2 sees the return of everyone’s favourite bear as he settles into life with the Brown family in London. However, when a misunderstanding leads to Paddington’s arrest, he and the Browns set out to clear his name and prove his innocence.
After being offered the opportunity to develop the story with his good friend, Paul King, Farnaby was eager to participate. In fact, he feels that the two were a good match, given that they share many of the same ideas of how to construct a story.
“I’ve known Paul King for about 20 years… so we go way back…,” Farnaby states. “[He] wrote [the first one] but I helped out with some jokes, especially with my scene as Barry, the Security Guard… So then, on [the second film], Paul just asked if I’d like to write it with him. We’re friends, and I had a handle on the world. We have the same sort of sensibility of humour [by adding] a lot of warmth and a lot of heart in the story we want to tell. So, we were a good fit. Thankfully David Heyman (the producer),… allowed me to work with Paul. He trusted Paul’s instincts that we could do something special together and it looks like it’s doing okay.”
Created by author Michael Bond, the stories of Paddington Bear have continued to charm readers for decades. When asked why he thinks the books have maintained their importance, Farnaby states that he thinks it has to do with Paddington’s relatability and positive attitude.
“I think everyone sort of sees a little bit of themselves within Paddington. We’re all sort of fish out of water,” he reflects. “I remember starting school and feeling like I didn’t quite fit in. You know, I was always kind of making mistakes. Nobody likes to admit that. We’re all sort of trying to find our feet in the world. When I read Paddington, I found that he made mistakes like I did. Then, he kept trying and kept positive. No matter what kind of mistakes he made, whether it was knocking the house down or trying to bake a cake and setting the kitchen on fire, he never took it too badly. He always sort of brushed himself off and went on to the next thing. So, I think it’s that sort of mixture of comedy and his sort of haplessness and clumsiness but also there’s a sort of great warmth in his character that endears him to people.”
Although Farnaby never actually had the opportunity to connect with Bond before his death last summer, both he and King felt a deep responsibility that the film should live up to the quality of his legacy.
“Paul actually had a relationship with him from the first film and he was the one to go to see him,” he clarifies. “It was very important to Paul and myself that Michael Bond approved of what we were doing with his bear. Paul would go to see him and talk him through what we had in mind. Michael always read the scripts and read the drafts of Paddington 2. I think he saw some bits of it before he died and he was very happy with it. His daughter, Karen, carries the mantle and she saw Paddington 2, loved it and said her dad would have approved. That’s hugely important to us. He’s obviously a very important figure, not only in the books but we’re always aware of him and needing his approval. It’s a great shame that he couldn’t see it through to this one.”
When writing a sequel, the temptation is to always enlarge the scope of the original film. While Paddington 2 may contain more characters and a broader story, Farnaby believes that the heart of the film is very much in keeping with Paddington’s heart and legacy.
“From our earliest discussions as we started to write the story, we both liked the idea of meeting the neighbours in the street,” he begins. “We had an idea in the very beginning that it would be nice to have a sequence where we see what his life is like in London now. The last film was about him finding a family and a home but what is a home? A home is in a place and a community. Paddington would be a great community figure. He’d always be the neighbour who would help you out if you needed anything. His instinct is kindness, you know. He’d be very popular with his neighbours.”
“So, really, this film is about him finding a community in London. We really liked the idea of meeting his neighbours and then Phoenix Buchanan, a sort of celebrity in this neighbourhood. Paddington always does well up against celebrities because he sees everyone as the same, whether they’re a celebrity or a homeless guy. So, we had this really great idea for an opening and then, when we saw the prison, he gets into trouble even though he’s innocent but then he’s meeting even more people. It’s a new community of people, even though they’re criminals. We also thought that was sort of interesting comedicly as well as philosophically for him to come up with those sorts of people. But it’s really about him finding his place in the world and meeting more people. There’s a lot more characters in this film.”
What’s more, Farnaby also argues that his career as an actor has been an incredible blessing to his ability to write screenplays. With his experience in front of the camera, he feels strongly that his acting career has also allowed him to develop characters according to the strengths and needs of his cast.
“I think it helps hugely. Because I am an actor, I know how actors respond to parts when they get sent,” Farnaby replies. “When we were trying to get Hugh Grant to play Phoenix, I was constantly thinking that I know what he’s going to be thinking. I know what he’s going to respond to as an actor because very often actors, when they commit to a screenplay, they’re really not that interested in the whole story. They’re interested in the part they’re going to play. Whether you like it or not, an actor is really thinking ‘Am I going to score in this part?’ Really that’s how an actor thinks. They’re gonna put themselves up on screen so they want to know if they’re going to have fun or are people going to think they’re great in it. You’re always looking for that part that’s going to show off your talents very well. Being an actor, it helps because you want to make every single part juicy. You can’t send anything out that’s half-assed or that anyone can play. It needs to be something where they say ‘I know why they picked me for this part. It’s because I’m good at this…’ Even the tiny parts… so pandering to an actor’s ego, that should be good to for the script.”
In the end, as families leave the theatre after seeing the film, he hopes that they may begin to see the world a little bit more through the innocent eyes of Paddington himself.
Says Farnaby, “We started thinking about Paddington and his values, given to him by Aunt Lucy. Things like being polite and if you look for the good in others, you’ll find it. We really wanted to make a film that said that really is the best way. Paddington gets into trusted and his values are tested. In the long run, if you have those values of kindness and courtesy instead of always looking for the bad in people and the worst in people, if you assume the best in people and look for the good in them, eventually that will prove to make the community and the world a better place. What do we value in society? We have Phoenix Buchanan who’s this big celebrity but he never does anything for himself. People sort of love him. He’s sort of idolized. And then there’s Paddington who comes along and he’s kind so maybe we value the wrong people in society.”
Paddington 2 is in theatres now.