The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep
A creature lurks beneath the waves of Loch Ness … and a relatively charming and unassuming family film lurks within the flood of high-profile movies hitting the multiplex this Christmas. Unlike just about every other flick coming out in this highly competitive season, The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep has no major stars and nothing resembling Oscar buzz. What it does have is a simple desire to entertain, and just enough heart to see it through a rough storytelling patch or two.
"A true tale it is …" So says an opening title card, and it sets the right folk-tale tone for the movie that follows. It begins with a couple of tourists entering a pub in a Scottish town near the famous lake where the Loch Ness Monster is said to live, and when they start talking about the famous photo of the creature taken by Robert Kenneth Wilson, a local pubgoer (Brian Cox) emerges from behind a newspaper to tell them that the story behind the photo is more complex than they know. And then he begins to tell them the tale.
In real life, the photo in question was taken in 1934. But the tale told by the man at the pub takes place several years later, during World War II, and it concerns a boy named Angus MacMorrow (Alex Etel) who, we are told, is "drawn to the water but deathly afraid of it." If Angus finds the water both appealing and terrifying, it may be because his father Charlie (Craig Hall) left home to join the Royal Navy before the tale begins—and there is a very strong possibility he might never come back.
For now, though, Angus lives with his mother Anne (Emily Watson) and his big sister Kirstie (Priyanka Xi) in a house not far from the loch. And one day, while poking around by the beach, he comes across something that looks like a giant rock—but of course it isn't a rock, it's an egg, and shortly after he takes the egg home, it hatches, revealing an odd aquatic creature inside. Angus tries to keep the creature hidden in his father's work shed, but the creature's incredibly rapid growth—and the fact that his mother has just hired a handyman named Lewis Mowbray (Ben Chaplin) and has given him the shed to live in—make that impossible.
Fortunately, it turns out the normally distant and taciturn Mowbray brightens up a bit when he learns about the creature, and he tells Angus and Kirstie (who is also in on the secret) that the creature is probably a "water horse." Only one of these mythical beasts can exist at a time, and just as the phoenix rises from the ashes of its forebear, each "water horse" lays an egg before it dies, to keep the species going.
If Angus and company only had to keep the "water horse" secret from his mother, that would be challenge enough. But the MacMorrow home has been commandeered by the army, as led by Captain Hamilton (Watson's Hilary and Jackie co-star David Morrissey), and the place is crawling with soldiers—soldiers who have imposed new rules on who is allowed to have snacks and when, soldiers who have too keen an interest in hunting, and soldiers who are all too eager to look for Nazi U-boats in the loch. This last detail becomes a problem when the "water horse" gets to be so big that it can no longer stay in the house, but must be sent back into the lake.