Ian Fleming’s less developed franchise has so far run to only one film; a pity, since Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a strange and rather wonderful piece of work. Inventor Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke) and squeeze Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes) restore an ancient Grand Prix car and head off with some kids on an adventure to child-less domain Vulgaria. Screenwriter Roald Dahl only based the sunny first half of the film on Fleming’s work; the second, a dark and frightening turn of events, is entirely Dahl’s own, and the creation of the Child-catcher (Aussie dance-whizz Robert Helpman) typifies Dahl’s macabre sense of humour. The overtones generally are far too dark for family audiences, but a slew of famous names supporting (James Robertson Justice, Benny Hill, plus many of the Bond cast) plus Ken Adam’s amazing set design and some singable songs make Ken Hughes’s film one you’ll get a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang from.
In terms of unappetizing prospects, an adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s 1930’s book about children on a jolly boating adventure is hard to beat; it’s so old-fashioned it makes Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven look as hard-boiled as a Jim Thompson novel. Credit Dear Frankie screenwriter Andrea Gibb for adding a few select espionage elements to this BBC prodiction which manage to give it more of the flavor of classic spy-story The Riddle of the Sands. Philla Lowthorpe directs and there’s a strong supporting cast including Kelly Macdonald, Rafe Spall, Harry Enfield, Andrew Scott and Jessica Hynes. The sunny feel of the Swallows and their rivalry with the Amazons is well caught, but the careful integration of real-world issues is deftly handled and revitalizes a fairly hoary old property to good effect.
The only directorial entry so far from actor Alan Rickman (there’s a second on the way), this adaptation of Sharman MacDonald’s play is a sensitive, beautifully told drama of small-town Scottish life. Recently widowed photographer Frances (Emma Thompson) is planning a migration to Australia when her mother Elsbeth comes to visit. Played by Phyllida Law, Elsbeth is concerned about her daughter’s listlessness; as the sea freezes over, a conflict emerges between the women, and a sense of understanding. The Winter Guest balances analysis of this mother/daughter power-struggle with the exploits of her son (Gary Hollywood) as he warders the beach, with Tom (Sean Biggerstaff) amongst those he encounters. Macdonald’s ability to accurately observe several generations serves her well in this intense, yet sometimes whimsical chamber piece, with wonderful photography by Seamus McGarvey.