❉ A fitting tribute to Lynne Frederick’s star quality, 30 years on from her passing.
Best known to you and I as Caracatus Potts, Snr., Lionel Jeffries was a hell of an actor, writer and director. Chief among his credits will always be his directorial debut The Railway Children, the absolutely beguiling 1970 film of Edith Nesbit’s childrens book, which Jeffries adapted himself. It shot into the stratosphere performers Jenny Agutter (previous credits the more mature Walkabout, which debuted the following year, and I Start Counting) and Sally Thomsett (prior to her pinup status in student flat-share sitcom Man About The House), and further endeared the avuncular figure of Bernard Cribbins to the nation.
Jeffries followed this success with 1972’s The Amazing Mr. Blunden, a nostalgic Edwardian time-slip fantasy fairy-tale, also held fondly in the memories of anyone who encountered this film in their youth, either on the big screen or its multiple outings as a regular Bank Holiday staple of terrestrial television in the ‘70s and ‘80s. As with The Railway Children, it’s based on an existing property – Antonia Barber’s The Ghosts (1969) – and it also boasted a break-out leading role for a precocious female juvenile lead – in this case, the sublimely pretty Lynne Frederick, a much missed and fondly remembered actor whose distinctive heart-shaped face and almond eyes graced a diverse range of feature films from multiple Academy Award-nominated epic Nicholas & Alexandra (1971) and decadent Hammer horror Vampire Circus (1971) to Saul Bass-directed cult sci-fi horror Phase IV (1974) and weird-fest Schizo (1976), Pete Walker’s deeply flawed suburban giallo.
Her final film role was her then-husband Peter Sellers’ disastrous take on The Prisoner of Zenda (1979), after which her personal problems defined her status in the eyes of the muck-raking tabloid press up until her death in 1989, at the tragically young age of 39. The Amazing Mr Blunden remains a high water-mark for Frederick’s profile as a young actor of some promise, as her work in this film and the BBC’s historical drama series Henry VIII and His Six Wives saw Frederick bag the Best New Coming Actress award from the Evening Standard British Film Awards in 1973. She remains the youngest actress to hold this title.
Thirty years on from her passing, it’s a fitting tribute to Frederick’s young life and the promise she held as a young performer of prodigious talent that we can all enjoy Jeffries’ utterly charming and spooky family favourite in this Second Sight Blu-ray package, lauded by Mark Kermode as Jeffries’ “true masterpiece” and boasting a wealth of special features and exclusive packaging.
For those unfamiliar with the tale, it’s a spooky fantasy that sees a trio of poverty-stricken children (Frederick, Dorothy Allison, Garry Miller) rehoused in a haunted, derelict country mansion, until the proper heirs to the property can be traced. They’re bewitched by friendly ghosts from the past, Sara (Rosalyn Landor), and her younger brother, Georgie (Marc Granger), and perils from the present, in the form of monstrous housekeeper Mrs Wickens (Diana Dors) and her volatile husband, much-storied character actor David Lodge. It’s basically a family-friendly twist on The Innocents with Dors and Lodge turning the screw as an all-too corporeal manqué for Gross and Quince.
Diana Dors simply excels as the horrific Mrs Wickens, in just one of many demonstrations of how Swindon’s first sex symbol embraced unflattering character roles once she shed her blonde bombshell status – see also key roles in anthology series Thriller and Hammer House of Horror, and as a nagging harridan in From Beyond The Grave – ably demonstrating that the plaudits she received as a graduate of Rank’s charm school in films as varied as A Kid For Two Farthings and Yield To The Night were no fluke, while Jeffries’ skilful direction not only utilises his experiences working with juvenile actors in The Railway Children to bring out assured performances from Frederick and her co-stars but also showcases the versatility of Pinewood’s beautifully filmed Heatherton Hall backlot.
This being a British film of a 1970s vintage, there’s also fun to be had spotting veterans such as James Villiers (Uncle Bertie), the almost-Fourth-Doctor Graham Crowden in a rare break from being on Lindsay Anderson’s speed-dial as Mr Clutterbuck and Madeline Smith – face of an angel, body made for sin – as music hall starlet Bella.
Like MGM’s American Pie musical Meet Me In St. Louis, The Amazing Mr. Blunden only features one scene set during the festive Yuletide season, but its’ almost Dickensian key theme of waifs and strays surviving ordeals from the acquisitive and single-minded to find a happy ending, complete with a Christian metaphor, qualifies the film’s status as a regular schedulers’ fall-back for festive TV programming and as such, Second Sight’s bells-and-whistles Blu-ray and DVD package makes for a heart-warming seasonal treat, looking pin-sharp and with an array of goodies.
❉ Brand new Second Sight scan and restoration
❉ A new audio commentary with Actors Madeline Smith, Rosalyn Landor and Stuart Lock moderated by film critic and author Kim Newman
❉ A new interview with Madeline Smith
❉ A new interview with Rosalyn Landor
❉ Mark Gatiss on The Amazing Mr Blunden – a new interview
❉ 2014 archive BFI Q&A with Madeline Smith, Rosalyn Landor and Stuart Lock
❉ Reversible sleeve with new artwork by Rich Davies and original artwork
LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
❉ ‘The Ghosts’ – the original out-of-print source novel by Antonia Barber exclusively reproduced for this release
❉ Rigid slipcase with new artwork by Rich Davies
❉ Soft cover book with new essays by Kevin Lyons and Kim Newman
❉ Reversible poster with new and original artwork
❉ ‘The Amazing Mr Blunden’ LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY is released by Second Sight Films on 9 December 2019. Cat.No.: 2NDBR4104 Running Time: 99 mins. Check out Second Sight Films’ new website for new release info and for consumers to buy direct at www.secondsightfilms.co.uk
❉ James Gent lives in West Wales, is the editor of pop culture webzine We Are Cult, and has previously contributed to volumes such such as 1001 TV Shows You Must Watch Before You Die (Continuum), Blakes Heaven: Maximum Fan Power (Watching Books) and You and 42: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Douglas Adams (Who Dares Publishing). He is the co-editor of Me And The Starman (Cult Ink), a David Bowie fanthology raising funds for Cancer Research.