Two years after the BBC’s popular seasonal version of The Box of Delights, they attempted to replicate its success by adapting Lucy M. Boston’s 1954 novel The Children of Green Knowe in the Christmas run-up of 1986. It’s much less well-remembered and somewhat less spectacular, but nevertheless engaging and a rather agreeable children’s drama.
The story, essentially a three-hander, begins when young Tolly arrives one dark and flood-bound night at the house of his great-grandmother Mrs Oldknow, the eponymous Green Knowe – now known as Green Noah, and regarded by all as an impervious Ark set within a moat and the overflowing nearby river. Very soon Tolly begins to feel a sense of belonging, and as his “Granny” tells him stories of their ancestors who used to inhabit the mansion, he begins to feel their presence still within the building and its grounds. It quickly becomes clear that Mrs Oldknow too experiences visitations from the children of the past, and the stories she tells begin to dwell on the generation that were around Tolly’s age during the reign of Charles II. There’s a sadness surrounding the fate of these children, and a reason why the “ghosts” that haunt Green Knowe are permanently caught in their youthful innocence, but there is also a seem of Yuletide fellowship – mingled with a faint religious undertow – threaded throughout the four episodes. Generally the tone is one of benevolence rather than threat, despite the appearance of a Green Man within the house’s boundaries, which is called upon in order to give the story a vague sense of peril in the final instalment.
As the post-war public schoolboy Tolly, Alec Christie is an awkward presence – particularly when called upon to emote – but is nonetheless an eminently likeable young actor, easily holding the viewer’s attention throughout. The older cast, Daphne Oxenford as Linnet Oldknow and George Malpas as her manservant Boggis, are both kindly and encouraging, and the 110 minutes pass much more quickly than the very slight narrative would lead you to expect. Much of the story takes place in the stables and grounds, where Tolly is increasingly included in the visiting children’s pastimes, and develops a fascination for the horse that belonged to his forerunning namesake Toby. It’s a sweet story that pays off in predictable but nicely played ways, never running the risk of surprising the viewer but never threatening to become tedious either.
The all-on-video look of the production will probably be off-putting to modern eyes, but frankly this release is aimed squarely at those who remember The Children of Green Knowe from its original broadcast thirty years ago, and with its lyrical, Restoration-influenced Paddy Kingsland score and pastoral preoccupations, it’s unlikely to disappoint.
THE CHILDREN OF GREEN KNOWE / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: COLIN CANT / SCREENPLAY: JOHN STADELMAN / STARRING: ALEC CHRISTIE, DAPHNE OXENFORD, GEORGE MALPAS / RELEASE DATE: 28TH MARCH