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Unstitching The Politics Of Paddington Bear
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Unstitching The Politics Of Paddington Bear

Picture of Rory McInnes-Gibbons
Updated: 15 December 2016
A cute tale of an abandoned bear, or an acute political-thriller with heightened resonance ahead of May’s general election in London: all is in the eye of the beholder. To a 5-year-old in the front row, perhaps it is the cuddly cartoon, rather than the curmudgeonly satire, that stands out. With the release of a new children’s book, The Election, angled towards the future Tory backbenchers and champagne socialists, it is difficult to surmise just what the parental guidance audience perceive of the story of Paddington.
paddington station statue bear england
Paddington Station statue | ©Marcus CornishWikiCommons

While Ben Whishaw’s waltz of a voice (Paddington), or Hugh Bonneville’s fuddy-duddy daddy, (Mr. Brown), might steal the plaudits, the adult fun is in the politics, and not just the references to Nicole Kidman giving Paddington a ‘stuffing’, or the accidental bathroom waterboarding scene that is a laugh for kids and slightly macabre for the adult audience. In the age of UKIP’s nationalism, the significance of the middle-upper class Brown family granting intra-species refuge to a bear from darkest Peru has already been expounded, yet this is not the only element of Paddington’s political pioneering.

For starters, there are the tumultuous tremors that disturb the young hero’s halcyon habitat, killing Michael Gambon and consigning Imelda Staunton to the ursine care home. Fortunately, both are in bear form, and no known national treasures were harmed during filming. This is not an inane reworking of The Day After Tomorrow complex, but reveals a rare scale, natural disaster that destroys the bear’s humble abode, making Paddington an exile. Fingers crossed, with the signing of a carbon emissions reduction agreement between Xi Jinping’s China and freshly invigorated Obama, the chance of a future environmental catastrophe in the Andes is more likely to be down to an accident of fate than to mankind’s apathetic stalemate over Earth’s fortune.

paddington london filming
Filming of Paddington | © Cornelius JamesWikiCommons

The earthquake leaves protagonist Paddington an illegal immigrant to British shores. Home Secretary Theresa May may baulk at the ease with which an innocent, apparently innocuous bear, smuggles himself (and an unholy quantity of marmalade) through UK Border Force, making a mockery out of the customs officials in the process. In Britain we view this phenomenon through the prism of the Conservative government’s war on net immigration and the phantom pursuit of the blessed ‘tens of thousands’ figure. Paddington’s plight is a necessary reminder of a plague that besets an unholy quantity of those stateless, forgotten, third world fugitives who seek salvation in the unwelcoming arms of our so-called first world philanthropy.

2014 was not a good year for European narcissism. There are, on the one hand, elements of a pro bono attitude reflected in the donations made to Children in Need (approximately £32.6 million). Meanwhile, Britain built a French fence in Calais, the aptly titled ‘Ring of Steel’, hiding away from the problems of illegal immigration. This was not an issue limited to the English Channel, but reflected a broader humanitarian crisis, with its crux at the gateways of Europe: Italy, Greece, and Spain. The resolution was simply to withdraw search and rescue from the Mediterranean, raising the question of whether a lone Paddington, idly casting off into the Atlantic and entering difficulty in EU maritime territory, would even be rescued.

paddington station england
Paddington Station | © KeithEdkinsWikiCommons

On a slightly less grave note, Paddington has a strangely stark relevance in the void between Christmas and New Year that we now inexcusably dub ‘betwixtmas’. As paying punters paraded and pounded the platforms of a Paddington closed due to blocked lines, Paddington the bear was fortunate that the train delivering the Browns arrived at all. Met by the morose madness of the city’s rush hour crew, Paddington is left to reflect upon the shuddering lack of sympathy and absence of a welcome that these stressed and depressed locals grant our beloved bear.

Tellingly, this social critique is an insight into the disparity between a Western Europe that is both among the wealthiest and least happy of the world’s regions. 11% deemed themselves ‘unhappy’ or ‘very unhappy’ in a recent global survey. Britain ranked below Mexico, Pakistan, and Ukraine on happiness levels. We need to take a long, hard look at ourselves, then find a Peruvian bear, give it a home, and start afresh.

There’s a New Year’s resolution for us all.​