In the scene where the children are on the canal bridge they watch a horse drawn canal boat pass under the bridge, the boat however is a motor boat and not an unpowered boat, motor boats did not appear on the canals until the 1920s. See more »
Open mine, it's pencils! If you don't want them, I'll have them!
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For those of us who were spellbound all those years ago by Lionel Jeffries' vision and would therefore view the idea of a further version with disdain, you should be delighted to know that Catherine Morshead, of the popular TV series `Silent Witness' and `Dangerfield' fame, has created just as much a treat thirty years on for Carlton TV.
Simon Nye of `Men Behaving Badly' fame provides a script that restrains any of the cast from copying the antics of his notorious creations, although his faithful adaptation includes Edith Nesbit's incredibly condescending remark by the mother as she tells her three clearly cosseted children, "We've got to play at being poor for a bit". This sentence is offered as explanation for the enforced move for the middle class family from a grand London house to the country, to a friend's cottage after the father is sentenced to five years imprisonment on spying charges. The 1968 BBC serial believably depicted a little white house of the book, unlike the later productions with presumably bigger budgets which opted for proportionally larger rambling farmhouses that would seem impossible to manage without servants, and not at all in keeping with a family of straitened means. The decision by the mother not to tell her children the truth is in keeping for the period but would seem unlikely in today's culture of celebrity gawping. Fortunately for them they are kept protectively away from school and thus any chance of mixing with other youngsters, so never run the gauntlet of cruel taunts. Thus with inevitable curiosity they find themselves drawn to exploring the nearby railway and its activities.
John Daly (from a host of TV productions through the 1990's including the exquisitely filmed `Persuasion') literally paints a picture in motion of the train ferrying the family to the country by dusk that is in splendid harmony with Simon Lacey's musical score, and an image of W H Auden's poem `Night Mail' is fittingly conjured up: "Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder, Shovelling white steam over her shoulder, Snorting noisily as she passes, Silent miles of wind-bent grasses."
The 1903 period detail of this remake is commendable, allowing for the author's use of 1870's red petticoats and the absence of the starched formal Edwardian capes of the 1970 film. The Bluebell Railway on the borders of the Capability Brown designed Sheffield Park in Sussex, replaces the Bronte country and Keighly and Worth Valley Railway of the previous adaptations. The well preserved rolling stock gets full promotional treatment and the longest restored tunnel on a private line is in no need of a temporary extension, as was required for its predecessor for the hare and hounds race. Incidentally the Rev W Awdry wrote a tribute to the Bluebell Railway in 1963 to add to his `Thomas the Tank Engine' collection with a tale dedicated to the line's first engine, Stepney, a Stroudley Terrier built in 1875.
The Old Gentleman role is perfectly filled by Richard Attenborough in his quintessential Santa Clause mode borrowed from the remake of `Miracle on 34th Street'. Jenny Agutter makes a wonderful transition from her memorable performance as Bobbie three decades earlier, into a different Mother to her predecessor, Dinah Sheridan, but with a grace and charm of her own. Jemina Rooper manages to combine a modern Roberta with a past innocence and brings maturity to the role with her 18 years, as she asks the painfully pertinent question of her mother as to how long you can remember someone you really love without seeing them. Jack Blumenau (starring in Peter Pan at the Savoy Theatre) and Clare Thomas prove very ably suited for the younger siblings of Peter and Phyllis, with touching but not mawkish performances. On first sight Gregor Fisher (currently to be seen in Richard Curtiss' directorial debut `Love Actually') struck me as an unusual choice for Perks and in stark contrast to the excitable Bernard Cribbins of the 1970 film. I am more used to seeing him in a string vest uttering incomprehensible Glaswegian, at least to my uninitiated Sassenach ears, in his guise as Rab C Nesbit, which probably coloured my initial impression. However, I warmed to his creation and he interacts well with the severe stationmaster (Clive Russell) and the rest of the cast. Sophie Thompson is naturally the shrinking violet that she does so well as Perks' wife, akin to her Miss Bates in `Emma' and the antithesis of her prurient bridesmaid in `Four Weddings and a Funeral'.
Agutter argues that Nesbit's desire for a utopian society is reflected in her writing as alluded to in the `The Phoenix and The Carpet', which the BBC turned into a welcome children's teatime serial in 1997, and that, like all her Edwardian novels, captures an innocence that is to be destroyed with the outbreak of the First World War. A further theme of Nesbit's novels concerns time and memory as Agutter cites on the Carlton website, taking from the 'Enchanted Castle', the following: "The plan of the world seems plain, like an easy sum that one writes in big figures on a child's slate. One wonders how one can ever have wondered about anything. Space is not; every place that one has seen or dreamed of is here. Time is not; into this instant is crowded all that one has ever done or dreamed of doing. It is a moment and it is eternity." The plan of the world is indeed very plain when we are young with the clean slate before us, it is only as we grow that we complicate the simplistic. We become so embroiled in life's mesh that by the time we realise what has happened we have been caught too tightly in the grasp of the here and now to extricate ourselves.
This very fitting tribute to a timeless classic that has never been out of print, should ensure its continued popularity for generations to come with both book and film available from Amazon's website.
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