||It was a heck of a mountain to climb for Lionel Jeffries to direct a follow-up to The Railway Children, one of the most successful British children's films of all time, probably because it was made with such love and care that it stood out from the cinematic landscape where kids were fobbed off with Children's Film Foundation releases or Disney reissues. It was a work of true quality, and was garlanded with praise and awards, so he must have been thinking, how on Earth do I live up to that? Fortunately, he had read a book for youngsters called The Ghosts by Antonia Barber, a supernatural tale he felt was ideal for adaptation.
Barber's book was not some Edwardian period piece like The Railway Children had been, despite the ghosts of the title it was very much a present-day effort, but Jeffries knew his strengths and his screenplay for The Amazing Mr. Blunden was set in the last year of the First World War where we assume the head of the family has been killed in action, rather than having the promise of returning as in the previous item. This was released in 1972, where nostalgia for the Edwardians had been tempered by its then-recent connection to the psychedelic hippy trappings of the mid-to-late sixties, and there was a trippy aspect here.
Anyway, that plot: a widow (Dorothy Alison) and her three children - teenage Lucy (Lynne Frederick), younger Jamie (Garry Miller) and baby Benji (Benjamin Smith) - are visited in their London hovel one snowy December evening by Mr. Blunden (Laurence Naismith), a lawyer who has news for them that may represent an upswing in their fortunes. All they need to do is visit his offices and apply for the job of caretaker of a country mansion, and he guarantees they will get the post: intrigued, they go along and sure enough, once spring arrives they move into a cottage on the grounds - but the place is terribly rundown.
Note that although the plot started at Christmas, this was not a festive movie, yet it is one people associate with that season, largely because it seemed to be a staple on television for that period, much like you think of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (which Jeffries had been in) as a Christmas movie but it isn't, really, there are simply some productions that have that feel to them. In this case, it would have been the magical element that contributed to it, the reason why Mr. Blunden is "Amazing", which is his ability to transport himself through time, yes, he is a ghost, but only sort of: more of a restless spirit whose actions have doomed him.
We can imagine him trying out various children down the hundred years to see if they could right his wrong for him, but he does not explain the whole problem to Lucy and Jamie, who must find out what is happening from two dead youngsters, Sara (Rosalyn Landor) and Georgie (Marc Grainger), who inexplicably show up (via a basic but effective camera trick) at the grounds of the mansion where they died a hundred years before. The Edwardian kids' mission, should they choose to accept it, is to prevent the deaths by travelling back in time where they will become ghosts themselves, only from the far future instead of the past.
It was a clever notion, and Jeffries played it to the hilt when the only people who can see Lucy and Jamie are Sara and Georgie - plus the lady of the house, Bella (Madeline Smith), who is just childlike enough to perceive them as transparent entities she can hear and is freaked out by. Bella is married to the children's uncle (James Villiers), something of a rake, and lives in fear of her mother, Mrs Wickens, ripely played by Diana Dors enjoying herself under grotesque makeup. Her father (David Lodge) is a permanently punch drunk but violent ex-boxer, and they all know when they have it good, living off the louche Bertie.
What they do not want is the two kids, so Mrs Wickens contrives to, well, there's no nice way of putting it, burn them to death in a house fire. It was touches of the nasty, even brutal, that marked this out as a high stakes fantasy yarn, but above that was the yearning to make up for past mistakes that fuelled the drama. Mr. Blunden was determined to right his grave errors, and that lent both an urgency and a poignancy, especially since those errors had been so disastrous - you can imagine he finds it difficult to live with himself from that day to his restless afterlife. Full of little quirks (Lucy and Jamie making a potion to turn themselves into ghosts of the future, Sara's explanatory narration at odds with what was really happening with Uncle Bertie), there was nothing quite like The Amazing Mr. Blunden, and though it shared trappings with The Railway Children and was obviously the work of the same hand, it was definitely its own thing. A real cult movie for those who adore it.
[The Amazing Mr. Blunden is released on a special edition Blu-ray by Second Sight, a more lovingly-crafted set you are unlikely to see this year.
Brand new scan and restoration
A new audio commentary with actors Madeline Smith, Rosalyn Landor, Stuart Lock and Marc Granger
A new interview with Madeline Smith
A new interview with Rosalyn Landor
Mark Gatiss on The Amazing Mr Blunden - a new interview
2014 archive BFI Q&A with Madeline Smith, Rosalyn Landor and Stuart Lock
Reversible sleeve with new artwork by Rich Davies and original artwork
LIMITED EDTION CONTENTS
'The Ghosts' the original out-of-print source novel by Antonia Barber, specially reproduced for this release
Rigid slipcase with new artwork by Rich Davies
Soft cover book with new essays by Kevin Lyons and Kim Newman
Poster featuring the new artwork.]