Written by: Ben Vanstone
Directed by: Tom Harper
Inspired by – rather than based on – the award-winning 1952 Mary Norton children’s book (only the names haven’t been changed…), the BBC’s new version of The Borrowers gives a tale a harder edge, and a “cooler” look than its predominantly twee and kiddie live-action predecessors. But if this version has any major flaw, it’s that the inherent charm and wonder of the piece sometimes takes to backseat to a “how to appeal to each demographic” checklist.
We have 10 year-old James to appeal to young kids; strong-willed Arrietty and Spiller (played by Robert Sheehan doing a more family friendly version of Nathan from Misfits ) to appeal to the teens; some parent/child relationship issues to resonate with the 30-somethings; Stephen Fry and Victoria Wood for the more mature audience; a bit of action for the lads; a bit of romance for the ladies.
It often strikes just the right tone for a piece of charming, Christmas come-down charm (James’s first encounter with Arrietty; the mud fight; Arrietty and Spiller hiding in the church nativity model; the toy car chase finalé) and features some genuinely, instantly loveable characters, but overall there’s a slightly superficial, stilted feel; a result, simply, of trying to pack too much in.
There’s Arrietty’s wilful nature and her need to be allowed to grow up; there’s James’s resentment that his dad is never around; there’s James’s gran’s money worries; there’s Pod’s mysterious past; there’s Professor Mildeye’s investigation; there’s the whole world of the Borrowers to set up. That’s a lot to pack into 90 minutes, and while some economical scripting conveys all the plot points and character beats with concise efficiency, ejecting one or two of those elements might have left room to give the others a bit more care and attention. For a start, it would have been nice to have more than one scene showing the growing friendship between James and Arrietty; as it is, they’ve barely got to know each other (or us, them) before the jeopardy kicks in.
It certainly looks fabulous, with some near flawless special effects, great action sequences and exquisite photography. Perhaps, though, the gritty realistic approach did go a little too far. Was anybody worried the Borrowers were going to catch something nasty from all that wandering around in the sewers?
So while this latest version of The Borrowers is a little creaky in places with a slightly “designed by committee” feel on occasion, it’s been put together with such skill and conviction, the final result is engaging enough to make you wonder if there’s series potential in this. And it was certainly a lot more successful than the stodgy The Day Of The Triffids the BBC foisted on us last Christmas.
MISFIT CONNECTIONS Robert Sheehan isn’t the only former Misfit on this production. Tom Harper directed four episodes of the E4 show.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST GAG We reckon Spiller is an Indiana Jones fan, considering his best line in the show is a not too subtle twist on a famous scene from Raiders Of The Lost Ark : “Where else are you hurt? I’ve got plenty more kisses.”
Spiller: “Have you ever been on the back of a motorbike?”
Homily: “No, and you won’t either. Take it from me, they’re not worth the risk.”
Arrietty (to Homily): “Have you been on a motorbike?”
Homily: “We’re not talking about me.”
Spiller: “Well maybe we should be.”
Homily: “Oh, you keep rubbing me up the wrong way, see what happens.”
Spiller: “I won’t be rubbing you up any way, love…”
(Is it just us or is Sheehan really channeling Nathan here… getting smutty about an older woman!?)