The Amazing Mr. Blunden is a 1972 British film based on Antonia Barber's novel The Ghosts. Having never read the novel, I can only comment on the movie; my brother and I practically wore out the video tape when we were little. The story begins with dinnertime in the Allen family's flat in the poorer area of Victorian London. Lucy and Jamie, two teenagers, live with their mother and baby brother. Their father has recently died, and the remaining family members are struggling to make ends meet. A mysterious stranger -- an elderly man in dark attire -- comes to the door and presents the family with an opportunity. There is an old house in the countryside that has fallen into deep disrepair, and is desperately in need of reliable caretakers. Mrs. Allen realizes that this might be her only opportunity, and so agrees to take her children away from the city to the mysterious mansion.

When the Allen family arrives at the mansion, the neglect of the house is apparent. Cobwebs, broken furniture, and scorch marks are everywhere. Lucy and Jamie soon learn from a nearby villager that several caretakers have been hired in the past, and all have left in a hurry -- the house is rumored to be haunted. Lucy and Jamie realize that something serious might indeed be going on, for the old man who came to see them (Mr. Blunden, as he called himself) had asked the children if they were afraid of ghosts on the night when he'd come to see them in London. The house has a definite eerie feel to it; strange cries, creaks, and whispers float through the air at night, making it difficult for Lucy and Jamie to sleep. One morning, when the children are having a picnic outside in the grass, two indistinct figures emerge from the mist. As the figures get closer, they become the more substantial forms of a girl and a boy.

It is here that we meet Sarah and Georgie. Rather than being ghosts in the traditional sense, these children are actually time travellers who have come about 100 years into the future to seek help. Sarah, the elder of the two, feels that she and her younger brother are in grave danger. Georgie does not fully understand the implications of this, being only 10 years old, but he knows that something is amiss. Since Sarah's and Georgie's parents were killed, they have lived with their uncle Bertie, his pretty, young (but daft) wife Arabella, and Bertie's in-laws, Mr. and Mrs. Wickens. Bertie is something of a playboy; he cares more for parties and pleasure than for his niece and nephew. Mr. Wickens is an alcoholic oaf who seems to communicate largely in grunts. Mrs. Wickens is greedy, scheming, and domineering. She, Mr. Wickens, and Arabella constitute much of the movie's comic relief, as strange as that may sound. Each character is somewhat exaggerated; not enough to become a caricature, but almost. Mrs. Wickens seems to think very highly of herself, and one gets the impression that she was probably quite beautiful in her youth, despite her current haggard appearance. She runs her inn with military vigilance, and considers Sarah and Georgie a nusiance.

When Mrs. Wickens discovers that Sarah and Georgie are heirs to an impressive inheritance, she realizes that the children might have a purpose after all. If the children were out of the way, her son-in-law Bertie would be next in line for the money. Sarah overhears a conversation in which Mrs. Wickens announces her intent to kill her and her brother and make it look like an accident.

Sarah discovers a recipe for a potion, "a charm to move the wheel of time." Out of desperation, she and Georgie mix it up, not knowing where (or more appropriately when) it will take them. As far as time machines go, this potion is more of a fantasy device than anything else. The Amazing Mr. Blunden is fantasy, not science fiction, so the technical aspects of this potion are never discussed. Nobody knows why it takes Sarah and Georgie into the future, but takes Lucy and Jamie into the past. There is also a rather gaping paradox in the plot that becomes evident in the last few minutes of the movie. I will not reveal the details of this paradox, but if you watch the film you are sure to notice. My advice is to just remind yourself that this is a kids' fantasy film, not a treatise on the feasibility of time travel.

All the characters seem very comfortable in their roles, and expression of emotion is realistic. Lucy and Jamie seem a bit serious and somber for a pair of teenage siblings, but this is appropriate considering their father's recent death and their family's financial struggles since. Lawrence Naismith's Mr Blunden is well portrayed as a man plagued by guilt, determined to set things right.

Lush outdoor landscapes and moody interiors dominate this film's setting. The countryside is idyllic with something of a wild, overgrown look. The portrayal of the lush mansion of Sarah and Georgie's time is a nice counterpoint to the run-down house Lucy and James know. Details are quite consistent between the two times, and the decay is realistic. I remember the music being very dramatic, alternating between delicately haunting and darkly powerful.

The Amazing Mr. Blunden is good viewing for both children and adults. There are some scary moments, though, which might frighten children under the age of eight or so. The film contains elements of adventure, mystery, humor, and has an odd sort of quirkiness that simply adds to its charm. For example, the end credits of the film includes all the characters from the movie (including the villains) smiling and waving "Goodbye!" to the movie's audience (that means you!). I'm not sure where to find this movie; my parents taped it off the TV when I was little, and I've never seen it in a video store. Knowing the state of things today, you can probably order it off the Internet.

Director/Screenplay - Lionel Jeffries
Producer - Barry Levinson
Photography - Gerry Fisher
Music - Elmer Bernstein
Special Effects - Pat Moore
Production Design - Wilfred Shingleton
Art Direction - Roy Smith
Production Company - Hemdale.

Lynne Frederick (Lucy Allen)
Rosalyn Landor (Sarah Latimer)
Lawrence Naismith (Frederick Percival Blunden)
Garry Miller (Jamie Allen)
Marc Granger (Georgie Latimer)
Diana Dors (Mrs Wickens)
Graham Crowden (Mr Clutterbug)
James Villiers (Uncle Bertie)
Madeline Smith (Arabella Wickens)
Stuart Lock (Tom Mortimer)
Dorothy Alison (Mrs Allen)
David Lodge (Mr Wickens)