The Amazing Mr Blunden

The Amazing Mr Blunden

***1/2

Reviewed by: Neil Mitchell

There's a strange sense of symmetry evoked by watching Lionel Jeffries' The Amazing Mr Blunden in 2013, some 40 years after this tale of time travel and ghostly redemption initially saw the light of day. Released for the first time on DVD by Second Sight, Mr Blunden, adapted from Antonia Barber's 1969 novel The Ghosts, is now a retro slice of family entertainment (pre-CGI, pre-post-modern stylings), which itself looks to the past for its narrative inspiration. Set in both the early 19th and 20th centuries, Jeffries' second directorial credit, after his much-loved take on E Nesbit's The Railway Children (1970), similarly revolves around the adventures of siblings touched by parental loss/absence.

Where The Railway Children existed in a solidly real, if lyrically romanticised, version of late Edwardian England, Mr Blunden moves between the same era and a late Georgian period ushered in via the incorporation of fantasy elements into the narrative. The transition from urban to country life and comfort to struggle also play a part in Mr Blunden, though this time in reverse as Mrs Allen (Dorothy Alison) and her family swap the squalid conditions of the London flat that her war widow's pension barely affords for, on the face of it, a better life as the caretaker of Langley Park in the Home Counties. The offer of the position, made by mysterious solicitor Mr Blunden (Laurence Naismith), who charms the Allen children, Lucy (Lynne Frederick) and Jamie (Garry Miller), with a conspiratorial chat, is the bait that will lead them into a world of magic potions, ghostly apparitions and the very real possibility of the impossible.

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Touching on universal themes – injustice, cruelty, greed, guilt and redemption - The Amazing Mr Blunden manages to be charming and eerie, fantastical yet rooted in real emotions. No easy trick when child murder is at the crux of a narrative aimed at the whole family. The presence of Naismith, Frederick, a delightfully over the top Diana Dors, David Lodge and Graham Crowden, all now no longer with us, adds a fittingly poignant touch to Mr Blunden's tale of departed souls and eccentric characters.

I'm not surprised to learn that Mark Gatiss, a man well-versed in blending the offbeat with the comedic and creepy, nominated Jeffries' film as his neglected classic of the Seventies on Radio Four's The Film Programme. Barber's decision, which Jeffries retains, to set part of the tale at the end of The Great War gives extra meaning to the story which adults, and perhaps some emotionally attuned children, will pick up on. The death of innocence, generations wiped out, redemption, grief and emotional, spiritual and physical upheaval are all underlying themes addressed in the narrative, and are readily applicable to the collective state of the nation at the time.

While this may make Mr Blunden sound somewhat heavy, the truth of the matter is that at its heart the tale is a fantastical, often amusing, adventure that resonates in different ways for varying age groups. With the cyclical nature of all things, The Amazing Mr Blunden attains a timeless quality regardless of the specific time periods presented. After living in the shadows of The Railway Children for so long, it's time that Jeffries' 'neglected classic' was afforded the same place in the cultural consciousness of viewing audiences.

Reviewed on: 11 Mar 2013
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The Amazing Mr Blunden packshot
Siblings travel back in time to help right a 100-year-old wrong.
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Director: Lionel Jeffries

Writer: Lionel Jeffries, based on the novel The Ghosts by Antonia Barber

Starring: Laurence Naismith, Lynne Frederick, Garry Miller, Rosalyn Landor, Marc Granger, Diana Dors, Dorothy Alison, James Villiers, Madeline Smith, David Lodge, Stuart Lock, Deddie Davies, Graham Crowden, Erik Chitty, Reg Lye

Year: 1972

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: UK

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