When writing a review, often a critic will get so caught up in discussing stirring themes, or stunning visuals, that some of the finer details that make a movie marvelous get left out. For me, this is too often a brief but outstanding performance by a supporting player. This past year, I’ve seen so many incredible turns in “small” roles that I decided it’s time to create a place to celebrate them, so here is Supporting Player Spotlight, a column we’ll bust out as the need arises to draw special attention to a sensational supporting player who’s getting woefully overlooked. To kick off 2018, I’m starting with Paddington 2’s gap-toothed grouser Tom Davis.
A recurring presence on British television, Davis has appeared in shows like The Morgana Show, Lemon La Vida Loca and Murder in Successville. Looking over his filmography, I realize I’d seen Davis in more “mature” fare like Alice Lowe’s pitch-black horror-comedy Prevenge and and Ben Wheatley’s shoot-em-up Free Fire. But it’s Paddington 2 for which I’ll forever remember him.
As detailed in my review, this spirited sequel sees its eponymous bear framed and imprisoned. Behind bars, Paddington meets a gang of colorful criminals with names like Spoon, Mad Dog, Johnny Cashpoint, and Knuckles McGinty. But Davis’s T-Bone was my favorite. Burly, towering, and scowling, he is incensed when the silly bear accidentally dyes their prison uniforms a cheery pink, and so tries to trick him into trouble. But when Paddington manages to win hearts and make friends anyway, even T-Bone cracks a toothy grin.
A major theme in Paddington and Paddington 2 is about the problems with prejudice. In the first film, Mr. Curry (Peter Capaldi) sniffed about the “jungle music” his new bear neighbor would likely subject him to. In the sequel, Curry relishes Paddington’s prison term, insisting it means his thoughts about this furry foreigner were right all along! But just as Curry did Paddington, audiences hastily misjudge T-Bone. His tattoos, size and scowl suggesting he’s a big, bad bloke. However, Paddington declares, “If we are kind and polite, the world will be right.” And so he helps transform a lot of miserable, glowering convicts into a cavalcade of capering bakers who share family recipes, and relish making marmalade. And we see T-Bone transform from a brutish bully looking to get Paddington in trouble, to a would-be baker with a contagious smile.
There’s a flurry of concise character arcs in Paddington 2. But it was T-Bone’s that thrilled me most. Davis leaned into the gruff stereotype of hardened criminal, then with a brilliant grin and a blossoming whimsy, he shows the transformative power of a good attitude, a good friend, and of giving someone a chance. When Paddington finally escapes the prison’s barbed wire walls, there’s a single shot of T-Bone, not jealous or resentful, but happy for his freed friend. It’s a small, beautiful moment that reflects the humanity a little bear managed to bring into one of mankind’s most inhumane settings.
Paddington 2 is now in theaters.