The Wolves of Willoughby Chase Review

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Bonnie (Hudson) and her timid cousin Sylvia are forced to investigate the gothic dwellings of the evil Letitia Slighcarp (Beacham) when it becomes apparent she's planning on stealing the family estate.


Remember when they used to make wonderful films for children? Films with period settings, comically overbearing villains, clean and virtuous junior heroes, a few slightly scary bits, plenty of sobbing and suffering and a rosily ecstatic last five minutes? Well, here, adapted from Joan Aiken’s well-loved children’s adventure, is an attempt to revive the genre. It puts one foot right with the production/costume design, as it creates an imaginary 19th Century Britain ruled by King James III and overrun by wolves, and another in the general area with the casting of Stephanie Beacham - best known for The Colbys, although we remember her as a dolly bird in Dracula AD 1972, House Of Mortal Sin and Inseminoid - as Letitia Slighcarp, the wicked governess who takes over Willoughby Chase and makes things rotten for the precocious Bonnie and Sylvia. However, the rest of the movie is disastrously somnolent.

There are lots of theoretically enjoyable things here - creeping around secret passageways, an oppressive orphanage-cum-laundry where our heroines are tempted, a steam-driven Snow Cat for the final chase scene, lovely frocks - but you keep cringing as the actors overdo the accents in an attempt to wring some sort of reaction from a generation of kids weaned on Transformers and the Care Bears. To isolate one particular offender, it’s amazing how Jane Horrocks - star also of Getting It Right - manages to be so irritating given the tininess of her role as a maid, but every scene she’s in she manages to screw up her face or nod her head in that “look at me” manner you generally only see in very poor school plays, and skilled old pros like Mel Smith, Geraldine James and Richard O’Brien manage to be just as annoying with large and ill-formed parts. The wolves, incidentally, are big dogs dressed up in ratty fur coats by Julien Temple’s sister (it’s a fact!!) and they look especially silly.

Thanks to a predictable screenplay, uniformly dreadful performances and a story that never really gets going, this film goes out with a whimper.