Prosper and Bo meet the Thief Lord for the first time.
The Thief Lord begins in London, where we meet two orphaned brothers, twelve-year-old Prosper (Aaron Johnson) and six-year-old Bo (Jasper Harris). The two have been separated by their aunt Esther Hartlieb (Carole Boyd), who is only interested in taking care of Bo and has put Prosper in an orphanage. As the film opens, Prosper successfully escapes from the orphanage, and is able to get Bo away from the Hartlieb house, although in doing so he triggers an alarm that awakens the Hartliebs. The two boys have made a pact to run away and go to Venice, where their mother was thinking of taking them before she died. The two boys are able to arrive in Venice by stealing rides on trains and boats. By the time they have reached their destination, Bo has come down with a bad cough. Prosper goes into a drug store to get some medicine, but doesn’t have enough money to purchase the drugs. He contemplates stealing the medicine, but is startled by the shop owner, and the bottle falls to the floor and breaks. The shop owner yells “thief” and begins chasing Prosper down the corridors and alleyways of Venice. Prosper is able to escape, due to the unexpected assistance of another young teen wearing a black beaked mask.
Scipio and his gang use an abandoned theater for their hideout.
The masked teen (Rollo Weeks), who calls himself the Thief Lord, rescues the brothers from a life on the streets. His name is Scipio, and he takes the two brothers to an abandoned movie theater where they meet up with three other orphaned street urchins — Hornet (Alice Connor), the one young girl in the group, Riccio (George MacKay) a feisty kid with really bad teeth, and (Mosca) Lathaniel Dyer, a black kid abandoned by his sea-going father — who make up the rest of his gang. The kids in the Thief Lord’s gang support themselves through petty thievery, selling their takings through a local fence, Barbarossa (Alexei Sayle), the owner of a local antique shop. The Thief Lord moves effortlessly throughout Venice, which he seems to know very well on the ground, in the canals, and on the rooftops of the building, and he leads the others on various escapades. At first the other kids object to Prosper and Bo being there, but the two brothers quickly prove their worth. Prosper is able to negotiate a better price for the jewelry and other items that they bring to Barbarossa and Bo brings heart and intensity to the group. Meanwhile Esther Hartlieb and her husband Max (Bob Goody) are hot on the trail of the two boys. They too were aware of the boys’ intention to go to Venice. When they arrive there, they hire a local detective Victor Getz (Jim Carter) to help them track down Bo and Prosper. It is not clear why the snobbish couple would even be interested in finding Bo and Prosper, as they seem totally uninterested in relating to either kid. Perhaps Esther had promised her dying sister that she would take care of them, and give them a “proper” upbringing. (You would think if this was the case, they would get Bo a “proper” haircut along with his “proper” clothes.) Or maybe they were angry at being defied by two kids, and wished to track them down for sheer spite. Although Victor is made to seem like just another bumbling adult, running around Venice using bad disguises (mustaches that fall off, etc.), he actually is good at his job. Soon he is able to track the children down to the theater, and in the process he also finds out some very interesting information about Scipio, who is not who he seems to be.
Victor and Ida end up helping out Scipio and the orphaned kids.
With Bo and Prosper established as part of the Thief Lord’s gang, things start to look brighter for the kids. The next time Prosper and Riccio visit Barbarossa, he informs them that a wealthy and influential client of his is interested in hiring the Thief Lord to do some work. When Scipio and the others meet the new client in a nearby church confessional, it turns out that the client is a Conte (count), from an old and respected family, who offers the Thief Lord a large sum of money to steal what seems to be a somewhat worthless object — the wing of an animal from an old wooden merry-go-round. If they are successful, they will have plenty of money to support themselves and not worry about how they are going to live and survive. However, these plans are delayed when Victor knocks on the theater door and we find out that the Hartliebs have offered a cash reward for information about Bo. There are many plot turns and twists in this story along with some magical events that change the focus of the story. But is would spoil your experience of viewing the film to reveal any more of the actual story, other than to say it might take you a couple of viewings before you pick up on everything that goes on in the course of the film.
Riccio and the others examine the wooden wing while Ida and Scipio look on.
Upon first viewing, it is hard to know what to make of The Thief Lord. Based on the fantasy novel by Cornelia Funke, it first seems to be a story about runaway kids and their struggles, and then about life in Venice, and finally about some magical and fantastic happenings like you might see in a Harry Potter movie. There is a lot of detail to the plot, and you are quickly taken back and forth among the characters and their subplots. Obviously director and screenwriter Richard Claus has remained faithful to most of the details of the book. If all of this interaction between the kids, the bad adults, and the good adults isn’t enough for you, there is a great little cameo appearance by Vanessa Redgrave as a nun providing us with yet another plot twist. It is actually a pleasant surprise to see a family film that has some complexity to it. There are some anomalies that should be noted. Bo and Prosper’s struggles and life on the street are so short and absent of real strife (is this homelessness for the upper class?), that they are already rescued by The Thief Lord before fifteen minutes has gone by. Venice, beautifully shot by cinemaphotographer David Slama, has never seemed so English, and there are no language problems whatsoever for any of the characters. It almost seems like the city has been moved to Dover off the English channel. But what a great setting for this story. Another issue is the mask worn by The Thief Lord. In many of the scenes Scipio wears this black bird mask which covers his eyes and has a long protruding beak. It is not clear whether the mask is supposed to be a regular part of his character or just a casual prop he uses, because there is no logic to when he wears it. Sometimes Scipio will be wearing the mask on a job or while traveling on the rooftops of Venice or walking through town in broad daylight. Other times he will be wearing it, and then for no apparent reason decides to take it off. Scipio wears the mask with confidence, but if it is supposed to disguise who he is from the outside world, it doesn’t make sense for him to suddenly take it off in front of strangers, because all of the mystique suddenly disappears and you wonder why a master thief would reveal his true identity. Despite these inconsistencies, it is not difficult for the viewer to get wrapped up in the action of the storyline. Rollo Weeks and his young cohorts are well cast in their roles, with Weeks particularly effective at showing some different sides to his character as the story line develops. While the storyline portrays many of the adults as heartless and/or clueless (the usual cliche for this type of story), Jim Carter and Caroline Goodall gradually emerge through the storyline as caring and sympathetic adults that you care about also.The film has some good special effects in it, and eventually its fantastical elements make some sense. The Thief Lord is certainly enjoyable as family entertainment, and younger kids will especially like viewing it several times.
Scipio leads the others away from the pursuing detective, Victor.
The Thief Lord leads the others through the streets of Venice.
Rollo Weeks, in the title role as the Thief Lord, wears navy blue high top chucks throughout the movie. They are a good complement to his outfit of striped sailor shirt, blue jeans, and dark raincoat. Two other characters also wear chucks. Aaron Johnson (Prosper) wears well worn white chucks with blue laces, and Mosca (Lathaniel Dyer) wears tan Euro leather high tops. There aren’t many close ups, but they are often well-framed in the cinematography when you see the kids on the move. Probably the best close up shot is the one described in the caption below.
After Scipio rides on the magic merry-go-round, the camera shows how he has grown out of his clothes.
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