The Borrowers, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews
The Borrowers, BBC One
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.
Robert Sheehan’s motorbike-riding tearaway Spiller jarred, however. Familiar from Misfits, and familiar to director Tom Harper, who has worked with him on the series, he mugged away, teamed with an accent possibly meant to lean to the American. Aisling Loftus’s headstrong Arrietty Clock worked hard as a counterbalance but, as Dive showed, she can take anything in her stride.
Whatever the tangled nature of the casting, The Borrowers was a joy, crammed with moments to cherish. Danger was ever present, usually not from the expected source. Drains and sewers were safe enough, and rat free, but streets were deadly with road-sweeping machines. Professor Mildeye’s dissection-happy assistant was a hoot. So was his humiliation. Arietty's first sight of London's skyline raised an eyebrow, as it was the towers of Canary Wharf that loomed into view. Was this for pre-Olympic reasons, preparing viewers for one of the Games backdrops?
What lingered longest was a scene from the opening moments. Asleep in an armchair, Granny Driver had a fat cat by her side. We all know cats, and we all know what cats love. Yet this one hadn't seen off The Borrowers the moment they arrived under the floorboards. Any other cat would have been all over those tiny people in a twink. Not this one, though. Even Professor Mildeye would have found this cat abnormal.
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