As far as I’m concerned, those Narnia kids can stay locked in a wardrobe. Tiny Tim can take a ticket and stand in line. And Elf can get back to the North Pole. When it comes to ideal Christmas viewing, a boy fighting to keep safe a small but magical box — which has the power to make you go small or swift — is far more festive than the lot of them.
The Box of Delights made a big impression on those who saw it when it originally wire more than three decades ago on BBC1. Mainly because it somehow managed to be the image of snowy Edwardian chocolate-box perfection, and pretty bloody creepy at the same time.
Oh look: there’s an angelic boy in pyjamas drinking a posset, a church choir singing at his front door, a kindly Punch-and-Judy man (played by a virtually unrecognisable Patrick Troughton) entertaining the locals…and clerics that can turn into wolves, an oversized man-rat gorging on green cheese, and a sinister megalomaniac roaming the streets kidnapping (sorry, “scrobbling”) children.
The incidental music and special effects — while nostalgic for those who revere, say, Peter Davison-era Doctor Who — do seem dated to 21st-century kids dazzled by CGI. But the whole thing is carried off with such innovative spirit and charm that it really doesn’t matter.
Put this on for your own children and they’re bound to be fighting over who gets to play at being posh, plucky Kay Harker as soon as the final episode ends.
It’s a wonder that, in the age of cinematic makeovers for everyone from CS Lewis to JRR Tolkein, John Masefield’s novel hasn’t been given the big-screen treatment. But, truth be told, it could never hope to be as winning, or as oddly unsettling, as this teatime classic.