The Children of Green Knowe is quite, quite lovely.
It’s the sort of beautifully measured terribly middle class family fare adapted from classic children’s literature which the BBC excelled at during the 1980s. The final episode has moments which could prove scary for younger nervous viewers, even if it did originally go out before the Six O’Clock News, but for the most part this is probably one of the nicest, sweetest and charming stories of a haunting you’re ever likely to see.
Adapted from the works of Lucy M Boston and originally broadcast in 1986 the show is a gentle treat and it is quite a surprise that The Children of Green Knowe has not been released on DVD before. It’s also surprising that the release is coming out this time of year, as it is set at Christmas and has all the hallmarks of traditional shows which families gather together to watch. Like the fabulous Box of Delights which came before, The Children of Greene Knowe has snowbound landscapes and historical settings, the sort of thing for gathering to watch on dark winter afternoons with the central heating on full blast.
It is the 1950s and young lad Toseland, rather than spending the hols at his boarding school as his parents are away travelling, has been invited to spend Christmas with his Great-Grandmother Mrs. Oldknow at the Green Knowe estate. Toseland is played by Alec Christie, a wonderful child actor who performs with brilliant excitement and glee. Watching him on screen makes you almost greet every scene he’s in with a smile. His performance is touching and truthful, and when he’s performing with the equally fantastic Daphne Oxenford as Mrs Oldknow the screen is filled with a warmth of a genuine and tender relationship.
As his stay continues he learns more of the history of the house, discovers the ghosts of the children who lived there during the 17th Century and slowly becomes friends with them.
It’s beautifully filmed, or rather videoed, the bright light dappling through the trees in the exterior shots and giving a magical atmosphere. The 1950s setting gives everything a sense of being out of time. There are some beautifully staged set pieces and the opening episode, where Toseland arrives by boat because the town is flooded, has a strikingly apprehensive and alien quality. He’s a boy travelling on his own, lonely, abandoned by his parents and making the best of a very strange situation.
For the sake of transparency I have to mention that my father was part of the Special Effects team that worked on the programme and I remember it being in production, so was particularly intrigued to see it again for the first time in 30 years. If anything it is better than I remember. The performances and the direction by Colin Cant are excellent and the simple story is very well told. The whole thing is winningly charming.
There were several Green Knowe books and these four short episodes end with a sense that not only everything is going to be okay for Toseland, but there are more adventures to come.
The Children of Green Knowe is out now on DVD.