UK TV review: The Amazing Mr Blunden
Suitability for kids5
James R | On 24, Dec 2021
“Time is not a straight line. It’s more like a vast wheel on which we stand at different points, rarely meeting.” Those are the words of Mr Blunden (Simon Callow) at the start of Sky’s new adaptation of Antonia Barber’s novel, which was previously made into a film in 1972. It sounds like the start of a Doctor Who special, but it’s closer to a horror story – and with Mark Gatiss writing and directing, that’s a good thing.
The film follows Lucy (Tsion Habte) and Jamie (Jason Rennie), two teens who find themselves accompanying their mother to a ruined country house, where she’s offered the role of caretaker. Introducing them to the estate is Mr Blunden himself, a mysterious old fellow who has a beard like Santa Claus but wears a look that’s more haunted than “ho ho ho”. It’s almost not a surprise when two actual ghosts do seem to appear – a boy and a girl from the 1800s (India Fowler and Spike Fern).
Afraid that they’re going to be murdered by their housekeepers, Mr and Mrs Wickens (Mark Gatiss and Tamsin Grieg), the children have travelled forward in time to seek Lucy and Jamie’s help. What ensues is a perilous adventure that isn’t afraid to play things dark, and Callow’s unctuous baritone vocals set a tone that’s echoed by Tamsin Grieg’s garish Mrs Wickens and amplified by Gatiss’ own turn as Mr Wickens, who likes to gaze at fires and murmur “pretty” to himself.
If the latter is a bit too Royston Vasey for a pure family affair, there’s an understated emotional arc at play that emerges with a poignant impact. That’s rooted in the very question of what a ghost is, woven with the magic of two points in time that briefly meet – and open up a window for second chances and redemption. It’s a traditional A Christmas Carol, then, but it’s a yarn spun with modern gloss and old-fashioned heart.