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  Exploits at West Poley A River Runs Through It
Year: 1985
Director: Diarmuid Lawrence
Stars: Anthony Bate, Brenda Fricker, Charlie Condou, Jonathan Jackson, Jonathan Adams, Thomas Heathcoate, George Malpas, Kelita Groom, Sean Bean, Diana King, James Coyle, Noel O'Connell, Jelena Budimir, Brian Coburn
Genre: Drama, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Leonard (Charlie Condou) is a newcomer in this village, having been brought up thus far in the city of London, but now has had to move to West Poley in Dorset, where his aunt (Brenda Fricker) lives with his cousin Stephen (Jonathan Jackson). He and his cousin are wary of one another at first, and Stephen resents having to guide Leonard around the locality when he would rather be working on the farm or getting up to his own concerns, but after spending a day together they get to enjoy each other's company and are soon getting along famously. But when they investigate the nearby cave system under the hills around the village, they have no idea of the trouble they will be causing as they find the source of the village's precious water supply...

Exploits at West Poley was based on a Thomas Hardy novel, one he penned for children and therefore easing up on the bleakness that characterised his work for adults. It would seem perfect material for The Children's Film Foundation, and indeed they had already adapted it back in the nineteen-fifties, but instead of dusting that off for eighties kids, they opted for a remake in the hope it would revive the foundation's ailing fortunes now the Eady money had dried up and they had had to focus more on television releases. But despite most people seeing this on television down the years, it was actually made for cinema and had been shown there before its small screen debut; it's just that hardly anyone had been in the audiences when it had that release.

This was indicative of the problems that eventually did for the CFF in the eighties: kids wanted to see Back to the Future in 1985, not a stuffy version of a book they would have to have read for school, assuming they had read it at all. This resembled the BBC's prestige serials of classic literature that had been produced, and would continue to be produced, over the course of the decades, though funnily enough it was ITV that picked it up when the broadcaster wanted to show it. The tale of the two boys throwing the future of the village and the neighbouring one into question by diverting the river from one to the other might not sound too riveting, but in an improving kind of way it was perfectly watchable, throwing in business about apprentice boys being maltreated all those years ago, and teaching a lesson about consequences into the bargain. Also Jackson, whose only appearance this was, closely resembled a young Ray Winstone. But in the main, there's a reason why twenty-first century historical drama for children includes ghosts, spaceships or an actual apocalypse to spice it up.

[This is available with eight other CFF films on the BFI's Children's Film Foundation Bumper Box Vol. 3, all on DVDs packed with extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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