Image © From Time To Time Ltd.
Ellen and I watched this film last evening on DVD, and enjoyed it. It’s based on a book I love, the second in the “Green Knowe” series by L.M. Boston, variously titled “The Chimneys of Green Knowe” in England and “The Treasure of Green Knowe” in America. I like all Boston’s books, but the Green Knowe series is her best work. They center on an ancient family home, “Green Knowe” inhabited by Grandmother Oldknow and in some of the books her visiting grandson Tolly. The house is also inhabited by ghosts to those who can sense them, specifically the ghosts of children who once lived there over the centuries, and in this one the focus is on a sea captain and his family of the early 1800s, especially his blind daughter Susan, and an escaped slave Captain Oldknow has brought home to be her companion, Jacob. Susan is often thwarted by her brother and mother as well as the head servant Caxton, all of whom dislike Jacob and the new freedom he brings to Susan, acting as her eyes. The young black youth is tormented by Susan’s brother Sefton, but manages to get the better of him more often than not.
The film handles all this well, but adds an additional storyline, setting the present visit of Tolly to his grandmother in 1944, and having his father lost during battle in World War Two Europe. Worry about Tolly’s father hangs over everyone in the house, adding drama to the film that wasn’t in the book. Tolly soon finds himself not only meeting the ghosts of Susan and Jacob, but traveling back in time to witness key events in their lives, and even taking part in them a little, culminating in a fire that threatens to destroy the house. In the present day, Mrs. Oldknow’s home is also threatened by mounting bills she can’t pay, and may have to be sold. There’s a mystery and a lost treasure that Tolly is soon in pursuit of adding excitement to the story.
Writer/director Julian Fellowes is best known for his film “Gosford Park” and the TV series “Downton Abbey,” neither of which I’ve seen. He’s done a fine job with this film, even where it strays from the book. Perhaps the biggest change is the house itself, much larger and grander than the one in Boston’s books, which are based on her own home, “Hemingford Grey” in Cambridgeshire, England. I’ve visited that house, where her son and his family still live, it’s open for occasional tours, and it’s a unique experience to walk through and see because so much of the books come to life there. Filming in that house would have been impossible, and the mansion used instead works well enough. All the actors and actresses perform well, with Maggie Smith as Mrs. Oldknow capturing top spot in my eyes. The writing, sets, effects, music, all are well done. I think I’d still choose the book over the film, but I like both. If only the film’s title were better, there have been so many with “Time” in them it becomes impossible for any new one to stand out. “The Chimneys of Green Knowe” would have been infinitely better!