Tamsin Greig embraced the opportunity to go against type to play a baddie hellbent on murder in Mark Gatiss’ remake of The Amazing Mr Blunden, a redemptive yuletide ghost story which will arrive on Sky this Christmas Eve.
The Belgravia actress takes on conniving housekeeper Mrs Wickens, who ploys to steal a child’s inheritance with the assistance of her pyromaniac husband Mr Wickens, played by Gatiss, who also adapted and directed the film from Antonia Barber’s 1969 fantasy novel The Ghosts.
“I’m not often asked to play proper baddies but I did play a baddie in Inside No.9, so maybe there is something about those League of Gentleman [Mark Gatiss and Steve Pemberton] that see that part of me!” Greig told press including RadioTimes.com. “I’m pure evil and that’s why I wanted to do this job. My children won’t look at pictures of me. And they’re adults! But what I didn’t want to do was make [Mrs Wickens] a panto villain. Because the child-catcher is really frightening. There’s nothing comic about my character.
“I didn’t want her to be pushed into that realm where we can laugh at them therefore they’re not so frightening. I think Mr and Mrs Wickens are quite frightening. But it’s a delicate balance because you don’t want the children to be in floods of tears over Christmas and their parents cursing you because their children won’t sleep until Easter. So it’s a very delicate balance.”
Greig’s transformation into Mrs Wickens includes a ferocious red wig, a frightening black bonnet, fake teeth and an 1820s empire line dress with a sinister-looking chatelaine – a belt hook around her waist to hold all of her “implements for torture”.
“All the skin diseasing has been given to me,” she continued. “I think she’s a deeply sensitive woman, everything she reacts to is seen on her skin and she can’t live with herself. So there’s lots of scratching and unhappiness in her body and that works out by killing children.”
The Amazing Mr Blunden follows Simon Callow as the titular hero who comes to the plight of a struggling single mother and her three children at Christmas, moving them out of their small London flat and into a sprawling countryside estate. It’s on the overgrown grounds that two of the teenage siblings Jamie and Lucy Allen encounter two ghost children from the 1800s who need them to travel back in time with Mr Blunden to prevent Mrs Wickens from carrying out her audacious scheme.
Jamie and Lucy are played by newcomers Jason Rennie and Tsion Habte, and children from the past Sara and George Latimer are played India Fowler and Xavier Wilkins. The 1972 film – directed by Lionel Jeffries – starred Diana Dors in the role of Mrs Wickens, who was cast because the role went against her typical type of ‘blonde bombshell’.
Greig says the remake is dark and foreboding, but full of love and redemption too, all of which appealed greatly to Gatiss.
“Mark is quite dark, but you’d never know that,” the Friday Night Dinner star continued. “This is pretty dark, I think it’s pretty dark, they’re [Mr and Mrs Wickens] trying to kill children. It doesn’t scream Christmas does it? [But] The central character isn’t the amazing Mrs Wickens, it’s the amazing Mr Blunden, he’s the redemptive catalyst for the story, so that’s obviously why it’s well-placed for Christmas. It’s obviously about love and how stories can be redeemed, which is exactly what Christmas is about.
“But there has to be this terrible fight with the dark side – it’s the heart of all the grim fairy tales it’s the heart of Star Wars, it’s at the heart of Lord of the Rings – it’s about how you’re going to defeat the powers of the darkness in the form of a child killer. But it has to be sacrificial. It’s the ultimate act of laying down his life and I think that is why I think Mark was so moved by it. Because he’s interested in the dark but it’s powered by love.”
The Amazing Mr Blunden will air on Sky Max and streaming service NOW on Christmas Eve. 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.