Any fidelity to Joan Aiken's classic for kids is captured in the opening sequences, with their snowbound landscapes, helpless orphan traveller, and treacherous forests. Thereafter, bogged down in Victorian gloom, some of the book's more glorious passages are neglected, while there seems no dramatic point in beefing up the relationship between evil governess Slighcarp and her henchman Grimshaw, only to pit the two young heroines Bonnie and Sylvia against each other. They squabble over Sylvia's lack of courage, while Bonnie rebounds of life's knocks with distictly unappealing, gormless innocence. Eventually the pair are carted off from a life of splendour to a grim orphanage, while the greedy oppressors work in the wings. Budgetary restraints presumably worked against a more imaginative, broad-ranging use of locations, but this doesn't explain the casting of Stephanie Beacham as Slighcarp (playing on her soap opera associations) and of Emily Hudson as the dreadful Bonnie. Better are Geraldine James, Mel Smith, and Aleks Darowska (as Sylvia), who have just the right degree of moderation. A big disappointment.
Cast and crew
|Screenwriter:||William M Akers|