Last Christmas I wrote about the 1984 BBC adaptation of The Box of Delights, in a popular episode-by-episode series of articles. The obvious follow up to that is another series that captivated me as a child, the spiritual successor to The Box of Delights in many ways, the 1988 BBC adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Many of The Box of Delights team returned to bring The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to our screens, including the same producer, many of the same technical crew including the special effects team, and most importantly Alan Seymour returned to provide the adaptation.
In this first episode, it’s fairly obvious to see how the success of Box was trying to be repeated. There is some use of beautiful animation again, this time for the opening title sequence (accompanied by a lovely theme from Geoffrey Burgon. If, like many of our readers, you are a Doctor Who fan, you may be familiar with his work on Terror of the Zygons and The Seeds of Doom). The team making this presumably also remembered how the gift of real snow made Box such a magical series to watch (and perhaps also remembered the shortcomings of the fake snow laden final episode), so they headed off to the Cairngorm mountains, in the Highlands of Scotland. The actors had to suffer for their art in the bitter cold, but the genuine snowy landscape adds so much to the magic of Narnia, and the striking contrast between the summer weather at the Professor’s house, and the “endless winter” of Narnia. Elsewhere the British weather was perversely not in their favour. You would think you could count on a bit of rain, usually so unwelcome, when filming in Britain, but instead the sun is streaming through the windows and a feeble rain machine on what appears to be a hot summer’s day provides an unconvincing excuse for the children to be stuck in the house.
The four child actors immediately make a strong impression. In particular, Jonathan R. Scott is amusingly grumpy and chauvinistic as Edmund (“Just like a girl, sulking.”), while Sophie Wilcox is an enthusiastic and likeable Lucy, coping well with the emotional scenes when the other children won’t believe her about the wardrobe. I’ll tread very carefully here as I don’t wish to comment on a child’s appearance, so I will use the words of Sophie Wilcox herself in a reunion interview: “I was this short little dumpling.” As the cast discuss in the same interview, they were an unusual choice, and were up against another group of child actors who fitted the character descriptions much more closely, but it’s delightful that the people making this were brave enough to go with likeability and talent as their main criteria.
As this is the opening episode there is not a large cast. Apart from the children, the only characters of note are the Professor (played by Michael Aldridge, who I remember fondly from Last of the Summer Wine. He also looks and sounds here hauntingly similar to my favourite English teacher at school, but that’s beside the point), and Jeffrey Perry as the charmingly gentle faun, Mr Tumnus. He sends Lucy to sleep with a strange sort of double flute. I didn’t quite buy its soporific qualities, as one side of it just plays the same note all the time, while the other side plays the tune. If you were ever wondering why bagpipes sound so rubbish (unless you’re in denial about that), it’s precisely this problem; the background hum of an unchanging note (created by pipes on the left shoulder appropriately named “drones”) clashes discordantly with many of the notes of any tune being played.
I suppose if there’s a theme to this episode, it must be the cruelty of jumping to the wrong conclusions about somebody. Lucy is disbelieved, despite being a child who never lies about anything. Edmund makes fun of her, while the others dismiss her claims. Like the White Queen in Through the Looking-Glass, maybe we should all make more effort to believe six impossible things before breakfast, especially at this magical time of year.
We end with the arrival of the White Witch, wearing a very impressive crown. Join us next Sunday in the Junkyard for her first encounter with the devious Edmund. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Episode Two
Excellent review. I can’t wait for episode two 👍
LikeLiked by 2 people
Thanks very much Russ!
LikeLiked by 1 person