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It's A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

Starring Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson and Chris Cooper TriStar Pictures Running time: 109 minutes Category: PG

“Fred Rogers has been doing the same small good thing for a very long time.”

That is how the journalist Tom Junod started the Esquire article upon which this film is based. Junod, who had developed a reputation for being a hard-edged investigative journalist, was given the task of writing a piece on the iconic children’s TV host Mr Fred Rodgers.

Authenticity is highly valued but often hard to find. In film making and life there is a thin line between cloying saccharine sentiment and genuine goodness. The cynic in us might think that something might be too good to be true. Maybe sometimes something might be too good not to be true.

Tom Junod, played here by Matthew Rhys (under the name Lloyd), sets out to puncture the dream world created by this national hero: Mr Rodgers. Instead he experiences a growing perspective on the nightmare that is his own family background. Something of the secret of Mr Rogers’s appeal can be seen when he takes to Lloyd the importance of talking about death: “Anything that is mentionable is manageable.”

Mr Rodgers was an ordained Presbyterian minister and it is fascinating to see a Hollywood depiction of a genuinely nice guy, who reads his Bible, prays and takes an interest in people. The film is a reminder that real goodness can both attract us and make us feel uncomfortable; as CS Lewis reminds us: ”Human beings can only bear so much reality.” Either we are drawn to goodness or we want to crush it.

The film might stimulate us to think about how goodness is a choice that is shaped by commitment and discipline. Goodness does not just happen, but when we encounter it in its purest form it melts us. We could all do with the hard parts of our memories being melted.

John Woods is pastor of Lancing Tabernacle in West Sussex

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