I must confess that I never really took to Lionel Jeffries as an actor, great though he was. But I simply never warmed to him. I think I forever blamed him for the downfall of Oscar Wilde after watching The Trials of Oscar Wilde as a teenager. His career as director, which includes just five films, showed that he was as talented behind the camera as he was in front, if not more so. His first directorial effort The Railway Children (1970) has become a classic and graces our TV screen at virually every bank holiday and, while familiarity can often breed contempt, it’s still a great film which you never move on from when it’s found by accident while channel-hopping. Sadly, though, it was all downhill from there despite Jeffries directing talents, and it all ended in 1978 with the appalling The Water Babies which, rather appropriately, sank without trace.
Jeffries stuck with the family film formula with his next film, The Amazing Mr Blunden, which at one time was on our TV screens nearly as often as The Railway Children but hasn’t been shown for many years, and was out of print for a very long time on DVD until it was re-released in March 2013. The film is based on the supernatural children’s novel, The Ghosts, by Antonia Barber, and tells the story of two children who travel back in time to try to save two children who were burnt to death in a fire a century earlier. There are some remarkably dark elements to the film, especially considering it is aimed at a young audience, not least the endless threat that the children are in. However, this is counter-acted by the gloriously over the top acting of some of the cast, including former sex siren Diana Dors who is almost unrecognisable in her grotesque make-up as Mrs Wickens, the woman trying to kill the kids. Dors steals the show, but the child actors are also superb, especially Garry Miller who, according to IMDB, was never to grace our screens again.
Mr Blunden shouldn’t work. It lacks the subtlety and refinement of The Railway Children and often descends into slapstick which sits at odds with the serious nature of the story. But the film draws us in with its wonderfully atmospheric opening sequence (and the superb period atmosphere) and, after that, we’re hooked and willing to take all the various absurdities and cruelties that the film throws at us. I confess it doesn’t work so well viewed as an adult, but it’s one of those films that you continue to love as you grow older, partly because it brings back memories of the first time you saw it, which was probably sat with your Mother on Christmas Eve twenty or thirty years ago.