Mrs Greenknowe starts telling Tolly about previous inhabitants of the house, partly prompted by his interest in some of the portraits and other artefacts he spots. Her housekeeper and gardener also tell him snippets of history, about family members and also about a terrible fire that burned down an entire wing.
Then Tolly starts to see ghosts. At first terrified, he is reassured by his grandmother’s calm acknowledgement that the spirits of the former family members do appear - and then finds himself appearing to them. As he asks more questions, he is taken more often into the past ,where he gets caught up in racism, intolerance, and the unpleasantness of one of his ancestors as a young man.
This is actually a film for older children, an adaptation of a book called ‘The Chimneys of Green Knowe’. It is one of a series of books by Lucy M Boston based in the middle of the 20th century, featuring an old house with both current and past inhabitants.
I thought the film was cleverly done; with no preconceptions, and not having read the books, I was able to follow the story easily enough - not always a given for me! Tolly was a likeable boy, at first rather awkward and defensive, knowing that his grandmother did not approve of his parents’ marriage. Maggie Smith, of course, is brilliant. Gradually Tolly and his grandmother learn to respect and even love each other, and there are some positive themes about family ties and loyalty that shine through.
We watched this with an adult friend, and found it quite tense in places, moving in others. There are some moments of light humour too, particularly in the initial interactions between Tolly and his grandmother. Their slow acceptance of each other is done very well, as is the gradual unfolding of two stories alongside each other, both present and past.
There are, of course, plot holes from the time travel point of view. It would be difficult to avoid them. One such ‘problem’ is raised directly by Tolly, and cleverly answered by his grandmother in the sense of having to accept that something apparently illogical happened. The ending of the film was perhaps a bit abrupt, and yet it worked well without leaving too many questions open.
All in all, we thought it well done and worth watching. The rating is PG in both the US and UK, which seems about right; some of the action is quite tense and even a little scary, and I doubt if it would be of much interest to anyone under the age of about ten or eleven.
Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews