Depending on what side of town we were doing errands in, sometimes we would rent movies from the public library instead of Video Vault. The selection at the video store was always preferred, but there was one thing that the library had that could not be found anywhere else: The Chronicles of Narnia BBC television serial. And I rented the Turkish Delight out of each double VHS box! The three series produced were The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (1988), Prince Caspian/The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1989), and The Silver Chair (1990). Each series is split in to six half hour episodes and takes approximately 3 hours to watch. Of the many stage and screen adaptations of C.S. Lewis’s classic fantasy series, this will always be the definitive version in my head.
The first installment, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, famously tells the tale of the four Pevensie children who stumble through a magical wardrobe into the land of Narnia, currently under the snowy rule of the evil White Witch. With the help of Aslan, the godly lion, they must fight to restore Christmas, sunshine, and all that is good back in Narnia. The second series combines two of Lewis’s books, Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In the first half, the Pevensie four are sent back to Narnia to help Prince Caspian claim his rightful thrown and make peace between the Old and New Narnians. The second half sees the younger Penvensies and their bratty cousin Eustace Scrubb on a nautical adventure to several magical islands with Prince Caspian to find 7 lost lords. Eustace is back in The Silver Chair. Along with his friend, Jill Pole, the pair are sent by Aslan on a scavenger hunt that leads them to the kidnapped and cursed missing heir to the now King Caspian. Do human children ever get to have a good time in Narnia or are they always just solving its problems?
The first word that comes to mind when describing BBC’s Narnia is charming. Even with third tier British TV actors and special effects that were outdated at the time of release, they don’t need to try too hard for me to love them. The magical creatures of Narnia are a combination of puppets, 2D hand-drawn animation, and actors dressed as animals (think Cats or Zoobilee Zoo), and yet it still manages to create an engrossing fantasy world. Extensive location shooting in English countryside definitely enhances production value. Soundstages are kept to a minimum, the kids ride horse drawn sleds over ice and it is actually snowing without the help of a snow machine. A memorable and haunting orchestral score is another major strength. Because of the nature of the production, action sequences are minimal, which allows the characters and story to shine (in glorious soft focus).
With the exception of the Prince Caspian segment, these are better and more faithful adaptations than the recent Walden Media film releases. Plus, this may very well be the only screen version of The Silver Chair we ever see. I also prefer William Todd-Jones’s (The Muppet Christmas Carol) voice performance as Aslan to Liam Neeson’s. A fun fact of note: Warwick Davis portrays both the plucky mouse Reepicheep in BBC’s Prince Caspian/Voyage of the Dawn Treader and the traitorous dwarf Nikabrik in Walden Media’s The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. I would venture to say that this makes him the only actor to portray different characters in multiple adaptations of the same novel. Overall, I have enjoyed BBC’s The Chronicles of Narnia all throughout my life and I would highly recommend it the next time you are in the mood for an epic, juvenile, literary fantasy. I’m still anxiously waiting for screen versions of the back half of the Narnia series.
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