21 May 2002 | HenryHextonEsq
"If that doesn't steady a chap, I don't know what will!"
While I would largely agree with the sentiments as expressed by the below gentleman, I would contend a few cases. This chap claims it was a "trilogy"? Well, he's fallen prey to the IMDB-shared delusion that Prince Caspian & Dawntreader are one story, when in fact they are and were intended as two separate books and dramatisations! Also, I think "Loach10" is grossly misrepresenting the below commentators when he tars them with the mantle of "cynicism"; the reviews are, on the contrary, wholly favourable if rather short and indeed make little reference to special effects. I would also suggest that by no means does the "trilogy" "more than adequately cover" the whole Narnia saga - heavens, they didn't make "The Last Battle", frankly my favourite book of them all and a great close to the series. Oh, and the perhaps not so small case of "A Horse and His Boy"; a fine little contrast of a book, fleshing out Calormen, featuring good characters and generally offering refreshing, derring Arabian Nights-esque "do".
Anyway, enough of such quibbling, however required it be. May I declare I know the below reviewer "in real life" and the said Chris Loach is a fine, if contrary fellow. He indeed even lent me the video of "The Silver Chair" last year, from which I am able to type this addled review. I too was revisiting it after around ten years, after liking the whole Narnia shebang as a child. Beady eyed folk may know if they've read my "Caspian/Voyage" joint review that my feelings were mixed regarding those two, with "Caspian" very mediocre and "Voyage" wonderful. "The Silver Chair" stands somewhere in between for me, albeit closer to the quality of "Voyage of the Dawn Treader".
"The Silver Chair" is one of my favourite of the stories, with a fairy tale plot proving a nice contrast to the mystical, Homeric journey of "Dawn Treader". The whole Rillian story is most enjoyable and yes, could even be viewed as a potential adult fairy tale, though it's not truly intended that way. Tom Baker is wonderful yes, as Puddleglum, but it is perhaps more a job of excellent casting than acting: anyone who has seen as many Tom Baker "Dr Who" episodes as I have, not to mention other stuff he's been in, would know he has got a limited range. It is however a range that centres around a comic flair and otherworldly eccentricity; his early Dr Whos I suppose show him in a slightly more restrained, mixed vein. That's not to say Baker is unwelcome when going a little OTT; his mid-late Dr Whos are wonderfully enjoyable although he could often tend to overshadow the stories and guest casts in some of those... Oh, and his Puddleglum is certainly eccentric, if I suppose restrained in the sense that he's dour. No doubt, anyway, that his presence is more than welcome and he's really the only member of the cast to match the high standards as set by Samuel West and John Hallam in the previous dramatization. Camilla Power, who I see is still acting in British TV, is very good as Jill, certainly convincing as this slight misfit of a girl, less cloying than Lucy and certainly more damn substantial than the "here today, gone tomorrow" Susan! She's a good 13 or so, and so seems to be playing younger than she is - but that could be just the changing times that have brought the perspective that girls of 12/13 are not so innocent as they once were. Jill Pole is certainly a lot more likeable than most of the other Narnia children; lol, perhaps as she's from a "Secondary Modern" school...! Yes, I do see that the adaptation to TV diluted many of C.S. Lewis' hilarious thinly-veiled attacks on comprehensive school education... I was really taken aback by this when reading the book fairly recently, certainly a sign of a slightly jaundiced, conservative view towards "Progressive Schools" that manifests itself in these lower class variants on the "Tom Brown's Schooldays" bullies. Eustace, the mellowed sort that he now is, works pretty well in this story, though he is a trifle bland - his preposterous indignation was very amusing indeed early in "Dawn Treader" I feel. The "Har Fang" episode is in many ways the best part of it, and certainly the part I remembered most; who could forget the giant, amazingly sinister, smiling face of Patsy Byrne? She is indeed playing an oddly similar role, as some sort of nanny, to that she played in the fine sitcom, "Blackadder II". Tom Baker shines in the scene where Puddleglum's (maybe) pretending to be drunk, and when he realises the mess they are in it's hilarious. There's some great comedy also at some meal part where Jill beams, "Oh! I've never tasted vension before! Isn't it scrumptious!?" Puddleglum says in relation to her acting, "The giants all seem to love her", Eustace goes, "Girls are always much better at that sort of thing than boys..." and then Baker delivers it wonderfully: "Even boys are better at it than Marshwiggles..." The whole section is well filmed, as really, is most of the rest of it. Only the scenes actually set in Narnia are a little unsatisfying, though there is of course... the snake! Yes, the Narnia scenes, as with "Prince Caspian" do not show the place in sufficiently sublime a light for me - is it me or were the BBC unlucky with the weather they got? They also could have chosen less mundane areas of the British countryside I feel, not that it's bad; it's just that Narnia should look like something special and magical. Again, you also have a few of the comedy Yorkshire accents - "Ah! The boy's useless!" - attributed to animals who, well, are not the greatest costumed perhaps. Also, the aged Caspian element is not so well conveyed as it should be.
Old Babs Kellerman - practically the only mature female lead performer the series ever used - is better than in "Prince Caspian", though she admittedly does have more screen time here, and a role central to the plot. Oh, and she doesn't have to don the ageing make-up to play such an "Old Hag" as her "Prince Caspian" character is billed. We perhaps have a little make up of a different kind, as we are treated to this Green Lady, a dame who quite clearly has a sexual as well as magical hold over Rilian. It is undeniably implicit in the story at a few points I would say. Kellerman is slightly hammy but not to so large a degree as with "Prince Caspian" and from my distant memories, her role in "The Lion, The Witch...". The actor who played Rilian is indeed excellent, giving much credibility and a dangerous edge to his character. Come to think of it, when the Underworld part of the story does not involve the Lady or Rilian, it does get slightly more dull... The "Old Father Time" bit and more of it, was better done in the book. Of course, the climatic "There never *was* such a world as Narnia..." scene, including Puddleglum's passionate speech, is stirring, effective stuff with atmosphere and pathos. I love Tom Baker's delivery of the speech, and Kellerman's "Over... *world*?" giddily questioning tones, trying to make reality appear a dazed dream. Speaking of intonations, Ronald Pickup masterfully voices the immobile Aslan - Pickup really has got a rich, lovely voice.
On a final note, I feel a certain lack of confidence in any likely project to bring the Narnia series to film. Certainly some stray animal costumes and the like would be more visually up to standard, but indeed, would the charm be preserved? For every thoughtful "Lord of the Rings" film adaptation you get myriad anaemic mummifyings - "Harry Potter" - and on the chance occasion you even get adaptations of charming British originals like "The Avengers" TV series that are frankly cringeworthily misguided...! I'm sure we would get a British cast largely for Narnia films, but that is no guarantee you're going to get the right people. The choice of director would be important - no ill-plying hack like Jeremiah S. Chechik or that Columbus feller. To conclude, I feel such a project would be highly risky, and the idea of "a modern adaptation" of Narnia is surely missing the point entirely, as much of their charm is grounded in the past. You cannot have the children as anything other than 1940s English public school stock, for example. Besides, what I want is for the BBC to finally do "The Last Battle"... or failing that, let someone like David Lynch or budding director Tom May take have a stab at doing a dark if still recognizable film of it! "The Silver Chair"; certainly a TV adaptation excellent in most regards that matter...