sat 13/04/2024

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

'The Borrowers': Watch out, there's a Bean about. The Clock family hIde out. Left to right: Arrietty Clock (Aisling Loftus), Homily Clock (Sharon Horgan), Pod Clock (Christopher Eccleston)

“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.

Borrowers Stephen Fry PROFESSOR MILDEYEThe 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.

Borrowers Victoria Wood GRANNY DRIVER Stephen Fry  PROFESSOR MILDEYEThankfully, 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.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Stephen Fry's Professor Mildeye was rapidly turning into Gérard Depardieu

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How sad to be a critic whose glass is always half empty, my wife and myself really enjoyed it. I expect your wine was the wrong temperature for your turkey as well. Robert Sheehan was great as usual so I suspect we were watching a different story, that is if you really watched it!!

Imodestly enjoyed this (though other versions did come to mind with more affection). But contrary to Kevin Hart, I think the reviewer was more than fair. And my wine and turkey were just fine, thanks. It's not necessarily a criticism of Sheehan, probably of the director, but why was Spiller made into The Fonz, right down to the gestures when we first see him? It completely jarred. This will not be remembered as a classic by adults, too much really hammy acting. But employ Eccleston and Fry and what would you expect. Though given the house was in Hackney, seeing Canary Wharf from the window seemed reasonable.

Does anyone know where I can find details of the soundtrack for this program ?....I know it wasnt mentioned in this review

Just seen this on iplayer and loved it :) Can't help with all the songs but I picked up on these: Hafdis Huld - Have yourself a merry Christmas Agnes Obel - Just So She & Him - Brand New Shoes M. Ward - Magic Trick

To be clear :) Hafdis Huld - Have yourself a merry Christmas Agnes Obel - Just So She & Him - Brand New Shoes M. Ward - Magic Trick

Aisling Loftus’s headstrong Arrietty Clock worked hard as a counterbalance but, as Dive showed, she can take anything in her stride. That's not the impression I got. Loftus is far too old to be playing Arrietty and I suspect this might be the reason her character's age was increased from fourteen (in the book) to sixteen. She seemed to be struggling with the script too and I can't say I'm surprised; some of her lines seem to have been lifted straight from "The Teletubbies". I mean seriously, what sixteen year old talks like that?

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