Mark Gatiss’ TV version brings The Amazing Mr Blunden back to print | Children and adolescents

A forgotten children’s classic returns to print after more than 30 years, following Mark Gatiss’ new take on the 1972 film The Amazing Mr Blunden, which hits television this Christmas.

Ahead of the festive production directed by and starring Gatiss, which appears alongside Tamsin Greig and Simon Callow, Virago Books re-publishes Antonia Barber’s original 1969 novel, which was last printed in the UK in 1988 .

Originally titled The Ghosts, Barber’s book will appear under the title The Amazing Mr Blunden in connection with the film, which will air on Sky Max.

The new edition of The Amazing Mr Blunden. Photography: Virago

Although The Ghosts was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal when it was first released and was given a tie in the edition when Lionel Jeffries’ big screen adaptation was released in 1972, it fell out of business. of stock; used copies are rare and sell for over £ 100 online.

The fact that it is being reprinted is a testament not only to the renewed interest in Gatiss, but also to the tenacity of Virago editor-in-chief Donna Coonan.

Coonan first discovered the novel ten years ago and immediately fell in love with the story of Barber, siblings Lucy and Jamie, who move to a dilapidated country mansion in 1918 when their mother is offered a gift. a job as a cleaning lady by the mysterious lawyer Mr. Blunden.

But Blunden has an ulterior motive, as Lucy and Jamie find out when they encounter what appear to be the ghosts of two children who lived in the house a century before.

Sara and her younger brother Georgie seek help before they die in a fire at the hands of the evil housekeeper Mrs. Wickens and her vile husband, who have designs on the orphan inheritance, so Lucy and Jamie must travel the time to avoid tragedy.

Coonan said: “I knew Antonia Barber but I had never read this before, and I just thought it was the most magical novel, kind of a wonderful children’s version of The Turn of the Nut.”

Coonan tops the list of Virago children, which publishes classic authors such as Nina Bawden and Joan Aiken. She was desperate to add The Ghosts to the list, but since it wasn’t as well known as, say, Carrie’s War or The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, she couldn’t justify it.

“I was really sad about it, because I fell in love with the book. But I kept the idea to myself, waiting for the moment when I could push it, and it happened this year when Antonia Barber’s agency contacted me to tell me there was going to be a new movie version, and I knew I had my chance.

Coonan had already parted with the second-hand book she had read nearly a decade earlier and had to quickly find another copy – this time a shabby copy of the 1972 film, titled The Amazing Mr Blunden, which was published by Penguin with a photo from the film on the cover. It cost Coonan £ 45 from an online seller. And it is this book that served as the basis for the composition of the new version, published by Virago on December 9.

Barber – who is perhaps best known for her 1991 picture book The Mousehole Cat, illustrated by Nicola Bayley and set in the seaside village of Cornwall where Barber lived, alongside his family home in Kent – is passed away in 2019. The new version of The Ghosts, her second novel, will be released the day before what would have been her 89th birthday.

“I wish she had been there to see the new movie and this new edition of her book, and the renewed interest in her work,” Coonan said. “It’s long out of print, but I hope many children will now discover this neglected piece and become the children’s classic it has long deserved to be.”

Gatiss has long been a huge fan of Barber’s novel and the 1972 film, which starred Laurence Naismith as Mr Blunden (which Callow will be reprising for the new production) and Lynne Frederick, Garry Miller, Rosalyn Landor and Marc Granger. like the weather- hopping children. For a limited edition Blu-ray release of the original film a few years ago, Gatiss was interviewed for a special feature film.

He told The Guardian: “I am so delighted that the beloved Antonia Barber classic is re-released with my new on-screen version. It’s such a charming, strange and delicate story. Powerful redeemer, moving and yet so much fun! The wheel of time is spinning again … “

A preview of The Amazing Mr Blunden, followed by a Q&A with Mark Gatiss and actors Tamsin Greig and Simon Callow, hosted by Mark Kermode, will take place at BFI, Southbank, London on November 29 at 6.15pm . Book your tickets here.

About Marco C. Nichols

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