The Children of Green Knowe
Lucy Boston’s magical story comes to BBC television at the end of November in a four-part serialisation produced by Paul Stone. The Children of Green Knowe, Lucy Boston’s first book, published in 1954 when she was already over sixty, was the first of five novels with the old house, Green Knowe, as background and central character. Young Tolly comes to stay with his great-grandmother, Mrs Oldknow, and responds immediately to the memories and associations stored by the house across centuries, in particular to three children of the seventeenth century who gradually materialise and become his friends. Mrs Oldknow’s stories recreate a past which the two can explore as easily and naturally as they companionably enjoy the present.
The adaptation for television has been written by a young American, John Stadelman. Paul Stone says he has brought a valuable quality to this most English of novels. ‘The story wants memorable images, and a sense of the visual is so strong in the American tradition.’ He managed however to resist the transatlantic desire to change everything in the original. ‘It was important,’ says Paul Stone, ‘to retain the literate quality of writing, to keep all the English qualities.’ The heart of the television adaptation as of the book is the relationship between Tolly and Mrs Oldknow, played by Alec Christie and Daphne Oxenford. But there are, of course, the other children. ‘It’s a ghost story but without the conventional elements. We decided not to make the children ghostly figures; as in the book we leave it up to the imagination of the reader/viewer. Are they real? It’s left on a knife edge for you to make your own decision.’ And, perhaps most important of all, the house. The original of Green Knowe is Lucy Boston’s own home, a Norman manor house on the River Ouse at Hemingford Grey. She bought it in the late 1930s and with the help of her architect son, Peter (the illustrator of her books), she restored it, created the rose garden and miniature topiary work chess garden.
When it came to filming Paul Stone deciding not to use the house; they found instead another location in Suffolk. Paul Stone recalls, ‘I took Lucy Boston to see the house we had chosen with a certain amount of apprehension. But she loved it and was delighted with the place and the actors. We were able to borrow some of the original things – like the cherubs in the hallway – from Lucy’s own house. Having these around as part of the set and props helped the actors a lot, they said. It gave them something to hang onto.’
About her writing Lucy Boston has said, ‘I believe children, even the youngest, love good language and that they see, feel, understand and communicate more, not less, than grown-ups. Therefore I never write down to them, but try to evoke that new, brilliant awareness that is their world.’ It’s that quality that Paul Stone’s production seeks to capture for television. It could well introduce Lucy Boston to a new generation of readers.
The Children of Green Knowe, Lucy Boston, Puffin, 0 14 03.0789 3, £1.75
The Little Princess
In the new year the ITV Sunday tea-time slot will be delightfully filled for six weeks by London Weekend Television’s adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess.
This story, first published in 1905, is in the classic tradition of fortunes lost and regained, of suffering and deprivation endured with fortitude. However Sara Crewe, our 11-year-old heroine, is neither unbelievable nor a prig. She has to call on all her personal reserves and imagination when the death of her father sends her from prize pupil at Miss Minchin’s academy to pupil-teacher and general drudge. Frances Hodgson Burnett, as in the perennially popular The Secret Garden, tells a good story, without preaching, and here creates a heroine with warmth and spirit who inspires our affection.
The LWT series, produced by Colin Shindler and directed by Carol Wiseman, is strongly cast with Maureen Lipman (Miss Minchin), Miriam Margolyes (Miss Amelia), Nigel Havers (Mr Carrisford) and John Bird (Mr Carmichael). Sara Crewe is played by Amelia Shankley. The series was filmed in Greenwich and in Central London.
The Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Puffin Classic, 0 14 035.028 4, £1.75