Pampered pet rat Roddy St. James (Hugh Jackman) may appear to live the life of luxury with his lavish Kensington home, gargantuan television and high class lifestyle, but his existence is lonely, and he craves companionship. When his owners leave him for a few days, his world is rocked by the arrival of loutish hooligan sewer rat Sid (Shane Richie), who takes over the house and ridicules Roddy’s way of life. Roddy’s plan to evict Sid – via the toilet bubble bath – goes awry, and results in Roddy being flushed instead, leaving him lost in the vast underworld of London’s sewage system, where he becomes intricated with Kate Winslet’s tomboyish Rita and a plot involving a royal ruby, a computer cable belt and a mysterious plot concocted by sewer mafia boss The Toad (Ian McKellen).
Mike Leigh’s depiction of acclaimed stage show writer and composer Gilbert & Sullivan (Jim Broadbent & Allan Corduner) creating their most famous production, the Mikado, is extremely well performed by all involved, especially the two leads and Timothy Spall as one of several preening thespians. The background is littered with know-the-face British actors (Andy Serkis, Dexter Fletcher, Mark Benton etc.) and the costumes and set design are spectacular. Unfortunately, the film is far too long, and too much time has been given over to the musical numbers, with at least ten being shown throughout the film. A much tighter script, focusing more on the backstage goings-on and less on the show itself, could have led to a bona-fide British classic about two of our most notable showmen.
Fittingly, The Prestige is a trick of a movie, a plaything, director Chris Nolan toying with the audience like a cat with a ball of string. Everything, from character motivation to the narrative timeline is entangled for the audience to figure out, as the tale of two rival magicians, Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, unfolds. Jackman’s Robert Angier is a showman, but lacks the skill of Bale’s Alfred Borden, himself too concerned with the technicalities of the illusions to be entertaining. Hell, even the film’s genre, seemingly a period drama, reveals itself to be more science fiction who-dunnit (not to mention what-dun-and-how). Nothing is as it seems, but on a repeat viewing you pick up the clues, noticing that Nolan did indeed signpost the way, but the plot, characters, setting and acting was too mesmerising, too engrossing for us to notice.