William Smith (Jeremy Irons) schools his son Danny (Sam Irons) in the ways of proper poaching, car maintenance and generally getting one over on villainous landowner, Victor Hazell (a superbly sleazy Coltrane).
Based on Roald Dahl's well-regarded children's novel, this unites three generations of the Irons familyCyril Cusack is Jeremy's father-in-law, and young Sam is his son in a solidly respectable little fable set in a Never-Never Ealing Studios England of 1955. Irons Senior is William Smith, a well-spoken garage owner-cum-poacher bringing up his son Danny (Irons Junior) unconventionally in the woods, and resisting the sleazy pressure being extorted by moustachioed spiv Victor Hazell (Coltrane), who wants him to sell his land so he can convert the rural idyll into a New Town. The Ironses decide that if Hazell's next grouse shoot is a fiasco, then all his wicked schemes will be foiled, and set out to poach all the greasy bastard's birds.
Danny the Champion of the World does such a good job of recreating its period that it could almost have been made in 1955 rather than now. There's an odd social division between poor-but-decent middle class people like the Smiths and rich-but-nasty proletarian property developers like Victor Hazell, and in the end, despite Coltrane's sterling work as a loathsome thug, one starts to feel a little sorry for the put-upon villain as he is outwitted by a conspiracy of thoroughly respectable and conservative little folk, including the local doctor, headmaster, aristocrat, police constable and vicar. Irons, his suavity undented, is fine as Superdad, although it will take him a while to stop audiences who saw him in Dead Ringers from distrusting him when he's trying to be sincere, and the rest of the cast who include many familiar faces of the British cinema in cameos are well up to the demands of the simple story. It's a thoroughly charming little film in its old-fashioned sort of way, but its very smallness is almost disappointing. Irons, after Dead Ringers, and director Gavin Millar, after the wonderful Dreamchild, obviously wanted to make an amiable and relaxing piece, but in both cases one hopes for something a little meatier next time out.
Millar's warmth for literary influences continues to buoy his filmmaking, whilst a sturdy British cast and faultless period settings do Dahl proud.