The Borrowers, BBC One | TV reviews, news & interviews
The Borrowers, BBC One
A warm, satisfying Christmas update of the children's classic
“For three weeks the Beans leave rich pickings for us Borrowers”. It’s probably not how most of us see the Christmas season, but if you’re a miniature person living under the floorboards, the seasonal treasures of the full-size humans – Beans – are irresistible. Setting this lovely one-off adaptation of Mary Norton’s books about the tiny recyclers over the advent count-down and bringing it up to date might have been obvious, but it charmed.
The Clock family live under the floorboards of the house lived in by Human Bean Granny Driver. Living with her is lonely James, her grandson. His mum has recently died; Dad comes and goes, racked with guilt, working part time and trying to find jobs. Money is tight and Christmas is coming. Granny discovers the Clocks, so they have to scarper. At the same time, Professor Mildeye (pictured above, played by Stephen Fry) – a specialist in miniature creatures – is convinced tiny humans are out there and he’s intent on capturing some. He gets his specimens and is ready to unveil them in lecture theatre, but it doesn’t go quite as he hoped. Naturally, all ends well for everyone else.
The bar had to be set high as The Borrowers has a history on TV, albeit a surprisingly recent one considering Norton's books have been firmly lodged in the collective consciousness since the early Sixties. The BBC first took on The Borrowers as a series in 1992, and made a one-off special the following year. America had been quicker on the uptake with a 1973 TV movie. Although another film was made in 1997, last year’s The Secret World of Arrietty, the (suitably) otherworldly animated adaptation from Japan’s Studio Ghibli, is a tough act to follow: despite being redubbed for its British and (forthcoming) American cinema releases, it retained its magic.
Thankfully, this Christmas’s Borrowers raised no thoughts of other versions. The question it did raise was whether its big names would become distractions. Christopher Eccleston’s Pod Clock was bluffly Ecclestonian, but not overly so. As Granny Driver, Victoria Wood (pictured left, with Fry) was a warm, snug fit, but Fry was always going to be a question mark. Ubiquitously over familiar, could he be accommodated without this becoming another Stephen Fry vehicle? Amazingly, his Professor Mildeye wasn’t a giant sore thumb, even though he was rapidly turning into Gérard Depardieu. His buffoonish, self-aggrandising professor was deft, natural and funny. As young James, Charles Hiscock from CBBC’s Combat Kids, also shone.
theartsdesk is changing
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. In September we reached our fourth birthday and feel that the time is now right, in line with other media outlets, to start asking our regular readers for a contribution to help us develop the site further. Theartsdesk has therefore moved to a partial subscription model. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
Take an annual subscription now simply click here.
Murder and moral squalor in the playgrounds of the aristocracy
Duck! The national dish gets Blumenthaled
Fine views, but the pilgrims' religious motivation remains foggy
Has the Victorian emporium drama flogged its final flounce?
An entertaining if unsatisfactory trawl through folk music's recent history and current popularity
Strange secrets from the invisible underwater struggle waged by three navies
The maverick musicals-maker, warts and all
Old Nick's The Prince is still a self-help book for our scheming rulers
Poignant Swedish drama depicts the early days of AIDS
Doctor Who isn't the only senior citizen on TV. We doff a cap to the other shows with staying power
Brisk account of the development of America’s music lacks atmosphere
Tight spy drama set in bleak mid-Seventies Britain