The Amazing Mr Blunden celebrates a redemptive figure who travels back in time to amend a past indiscretion and appease his guilt, which may explain why Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss was so affected by the 1972 original film.
The Sherlock actor has written and directed the new film – adapted from Antonia Barber’s 1969 fantasy novel The Ghosts – and also stars in it as Mr Wickens, the pyromaniac husband of the murderous Mrs Wickens, played by Tamsin Greig. Simon Callow takes on the titular lead as Mr Blunden, an enigmatic character who relocates a struggling family from their small London flat to a sprawling countryside estate.
It’s on these overgrown grounds that the teenage siblings encounter two mysterious children from the 1800s, who need them to travel back in time to prevent Mrs Wickens from carrying out her heinous scheme.
Gatiss has revealed that there’s a subtle nod to Doctor Who which fans can spot in the credits, as the name of a doctor that appears towards the end of the film – played by actor Raj Ghatak – is named Dr Hugh.
“[The influence of Doctor Who] is everywhere,” Gatiss told RadioTimes.com. “This is a redemption story. Blunden has made a terrible mistake and he’s suffered for 200 years in wanting to make it right, and this is his chance to do it. It has a lovely melancholy tinge and Simon is very keen on that and I am, on the power of that.
“And we all resonate with that as we do with Scrooge, the idea of having a second chance is very strong. A few weeks ago we shot the moment where the ghost arrives and takes Jamie [Jason Rennie] up the stairs and parts the flames and Simon just says, ‘It’s time’. And it makes me cry.
“It’s one of those moments. It’s like the last words of a Doctor Who when they go, ‘This is it, I’m going now’. And it makes you fill up. Something chimes about it and resonates with us all. This is a magical moment where anything is possible – it’s Christmas.”
There’s a touch of The League of Gentlemen in his reimagining of Mr Wickens, a pyromaniac entranced by the sight of flames, upon which he utters his catchphrase: “Pretty, pretty.”
“I wanted to do something different with Mr Wickens and I thought the key thing here is that there isn’t a reason why he lets the house fire get out of hand and I thought maybe he’s a pyromaniac,” he continued. “Every time he sees a flame he’s drawn to it. So when Mrs Wickens says, ‘Start this fire’, he goes too far.”
Meanwhile, Gatiss also says that his remake is closer to the book than the original film – with Gatiss a self-proclaimed “slavish devotee” of both – as the central family hail from the modern day, rather than being from the early 1900s like they are in Lionel Jeffries’ ’72 creation.
“We’ve gone back to the book – [in the film] the family are from 1918 and go back 100 years. In the book they’re a modern family. And so we’ve done that. So in the original film it’s a period film within a period film, whereas this is 2021 going back to 1821 and there’s just a starker feel to it, which was really interesting. It was great going back to the book.”
He added: “There’s a weird delicacy with ghosts and Christmas that goes hand in hand. There’s something lovely about it. I think I was made on this earth to make things I would like to watch on Bank Holiday Monday or Christmas. This ticks all the boxes for me. None of it is taking it away from the original. We’re just introducing it to a new audience.”
The Amazing Mr Blunden airs on Sky Max at 7pm on Christmas Eve, and will be available on catch-up and streaming service NOW this Christmas. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide or visit our dedicated Fantasy hub for the latest news.
This year’s Radio Times Christmas double issue is on sale now, featuring two weeks of TV, film and radio listings, reviews, features and interviews with the stars.