The Wind In The Willows

The Wind In The Willows


Reviewed by: Natasha Footman

There’s always that worry when it comes to movie adaptations of extremely popular novels. Take The Lord Of The Rings, for example; how could such fantastical ideas not result as silly on screen? Could the film capture Middle Earth with as much vigour and, let’s face it, immaculate detail as the books? How the hell was Peter Jackson going to make the cast playing the hobbits look smaller than everyone else? Somehow; amazingly, thankfully, Lord of The Rings managed to do justice to the trilogy, but it is one adaptation in a million that can pull it with such finesse and understanding.

Certainly, the main difficulty is the whole concept of taking a fully completed world and trying to recreate it in perfect symmetry, so as to not upset the hordes of devoted fans who have always pictured this and that aspect of the novel in a certain way. It is the visual nature of film that does not lend itself to book adaptations; how can you encapsulate millions of different interpretations of every element of a novel into one? To put it simply, you can’t.

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But you can damn well try - as the BBC have certainly done with the recent version of The Wind In The Willows, Kenneth Grahame’s superbly witty yet poignant take on society and industrial progression of 20th century England. Purely commenting on visual adaptation, director Rachel Talalay has done remarkably well, crafting landscapes perfectly matched to Grahame’s ideals, and particularly British sets and costumes, but the one area where she has really outdone herself is with the casting of the characters. Matt Lucas was simply born for the role of Toad, perfect in, for want of a more polite expression, form, above all else, while the rest of the main characters are also suitably cast. Mark Gatiss’ polite and languid Rat is just as the book describes and Bob Hoskins is flawless as the grumpily British Badger. And although Lee Ingleby gives a convincing performance as the timid Mole, he does get a little annoying after a while.

Yet this is where the similarities end. Talalay has traded immaculate visuals for performance, aiming rather narrowly at the slightly bored families who would catch the New Year’s Day showing with expectations of mindless, lightweight enjoyment - which would be delivered. Of course I am not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing in itself. Life would be terrible if everything had to be taken seriously, but rather I am once again pointing out that adaptations can only be disappointing when the heart of the novel is lost in translation. Correct me if I am wrong, but surely the very essence of a novel should still be present in its adaptation?

Maybe I am just disillusioned by my being one of those devoted fans. No adaptation could ever live up to the expectations of those who are unwilling to have their interpretations and understandings moulded. Certainly this edition of The Wind In The Willows is great fun. Lucas is a giggle and the various comedic performances are amusing, and the BBC have undoubtedly created beautiful and enchanting scenes - notably the Piper at the Gates of Dawn chapter. Yet there is a certain hollowness about this production that reduces it to a lightweight comedy that less sedated audiences than the holiday season families will find disappointingly shallow. As Hoskins himself says: "The Wind in the Willows is like a finely tuned Rolls Royce; if you do what it tells you it will take you anywhere you want to go." Unfortunately, while that can be said of the novel, it is not true for this enjoyable yet fickle production.

Reviewed on: 28 Mar 2007
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The Wind In The Willows packshot
Live action retelling of Kenneth Grahame's children's novel about the adventures of Ratty, Badger, Mole and Toad.
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Director: Rachel Talalay

Writer: Adapted by Lee Hall from Kenneth Grahame's novel

Starring: Matt Lucas, Mark Gatiss, Lee Ingleby, Bob Hoskins, Imelda Staunton, Jim Carter, Anna Maxwell Martin, Mary Walsh, Michael Murphy, Alex MacQueen, Emil Hostina

Year: 2006

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: UK


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