Leopold, Duke of Albany, has always been a bit ahead of his time. While of royal British lineage (transplanted to New York by the 1870s), he’s not satisfied with the life he’s been assigned. And so he dabbles in science and invention (he’s destined to design the modern elevator). His quest for knowledge and the discovery of the unknown will soon help him in ways he could never imagine.
Stuart lives in present-day New York. And he has discovered a rip in the fabric of space and time. He journeys to 1873 where he meets Leopold. What actually happens is that Leopold discovers him snooping about and snapping photos of his home. But Kate & Leopold isn’t about Stuart and Leopold, it’s about Kate. For them to meet, Leopold has to chase Stuart back through the rip. Stuart lives upstairs from Kate (the two used to date), so when she hears a ruckus, she goes up to investigate. What she finds she won’t believe. Over the next week or so, her incredulity gives way to respect. Respect fades into admiration. And admiration blossoms into love. Leopold is just that kind of guy.
Not quite Crocodile Dundee, Leopold still has great fun exploring his 21st century surroundings. Like Dundee, he quickly begins to miss the "rhythm" and "pace" of his former life. It’s the girl that keeps him interested. Then, as with all good time travel romances, Leopold is wrenched back to his own time. Are the two destined to forever be separated by a wall of time? Or will love conquer all and reunite them?
positive elements: Leopold’s winsomely old-fashioned manners, respect for others (especially women), chivalry and courtesy contradict—to good effect—Kate and her fellow New Yorkers’ hurry-scurry, me-first, get-it-while-you-can mentalities. Not that Kate is anything close to a shrew. She’s just a product of her culture. Leopold shows her by his actions that there is a better way to live. Tasting life rather than just running through it. Drinking in the small pleasures. Food. Talk. Friendship. Without lionizing the past (Leopold came from rich stock and many of those poorer than he had to deal with harsh surroundings in 1873), it’s fair to say that Kate & Leopold crusades for a kinder, gentler society, one that looks backwards and forwards with equal affection. To an unrepentant, "it wasn’t me, nobody saw me do it" culture, Leopold demonstrates the fine art of apology. He takes responsibility for his actions and seeks forgiveness when they are uncourteous and hurtful. He shares splendid advice with Kate and her brother, Charlie, on the subject of dating and courting. "Women love sincerity," he tells Charlie. "You should be pleasing her, not vexing her." Leopold is honest. He’s sincere. He’s tasteful. Reserved. And refined. Yet, he’s engaging, witty, good-natured and fond of children. In one scene he makes our methods of entertaining ourselves (TV, movies, video games) seem antiquated and second-rate. How? By telling stories and playing ditties on the piano. In his culture, people had to interact to entertain themselves. In ours we isolate ourselves. His is far preferable.
Kate works for a market research firm where she’s in charge of figuring out how to construct television commercials so that people will buy products. Enticed by Leopold’s natural charm, she convinces him to be the spokesman for a brand of fat-free imitation butter. He’s happy to help her and proceeds to knock everyone dead with a brilliant performance—until he’s asked to eat a bite of bread with the spread on it. He’s repulsed by the taste. "Pond scum," he calls it, refusing to say another word in support of such a horrific product. The lesson is vivid and well-worth spending some time on. Kate is just "doing her job." She’s nonplussed by the idea of shuffling the facts to accomplish her goals. Leopold is outraged. "You refine lies until they resemble truth," he accuses her. "You research ways to deceive people. Once one finds oneself participating in an endeavor entirely without merit, one withdraws." She argues that you have to suck it up and do things you don’t like to get ahead in life. He handily wins the argument.
While Kate can’t at first see the logic and truth to Leopold’s opinions about mass marketing, she does have enough self-respect to fend off subtle sexual advances from her boss. He insinuates that her pending promotion to senior vice president is linked to spending time with him away from work. She persistently pushes the conversation back to the job at hand and seems willing to risk her advancement if it means having to sleep with him.
sexual content: No advantage of the PG-13 rating is taken here. Occasional innuendoes make a couple of scenes uncomfortable, but sexual activity and vulgar dialogue remain noticeably absent. Stuart snickers at the christening of the Brooklyn Bridge when the orator refers to the mammoth structure as a "glorious erection." Everyone from 1873 simply cheers. There is also a short-lived case of mistaken identity that leads Kate to think Stuart is having a fling with a transvestite. Later she comments that passersby must think that the resplendently dressed Leopold is gay. At the height of Kate and Leopold’s romance, Kate asks him to snuggle with her. He does so and the two fall asleep—fully clothed—in her bed.
violent content: Leopold chases Stuart into the time rip. Seconds before they fall back to the future, they grapple and Stuart sprays mace into Leopold’s eyes. Kate shocks Stuart with a dog’s obedience collar. And Stuart falls down an empty elevator shaft (in a plot twist harder to believe than traveling through time, Stuart survives the fall with only minor damage). In the hospital, he fights with a nurse over a telephone and is hit with a opening door.
crude or profane language: Stuart yells out what may be the f-word (it’s largely unintelligible as he’s in great pain at the time). There are also about a half-dozen s-words, a dozen milder profanities and almost 20 exclamatory expressions of God and Jesus’ names.
drug and alcohol content: Kate appears a bit tipsy after a dinner with Charlie and Leopold in her apartment. She also smokes a cigarette. Kate and her boss drink wine at dinner. Charlie is a bit overcome with alcohol during a "night out" with Leopold. Drinks are served at balls and receptions.
conclusion: I’m a sucker for time travel stories. I was entranced watching Christopher Reeve struggle to find his true love in Somewhere in Time. As a teenager I devoured H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and Madeline L'Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. If it’s got "time" anywhere near the title, I’m there. Kate & Leopold has all the right elements. Romance. A clash of cultures. Hard decisions. Even a moral baseline. It’s not as intricately sci-fi as Time Machine, nor is it as clever as King Arthur’s Court, but it’s a fun story with a good heart. The only disappointments families should note before deciding to take a journey to Duke Leopold’s time are the inclusion of a little too much alcohol, some foul language and misuses of the Lord’s name.