3. In the Darkest Cellars Underneath
Again, I’m going to start this look back at The Box Of Delights with a fine point raised by a commenter on my article about episode two. After all, the commenters seem to be making far more sensible observations than me!
I was intrigued in particular by a comment from Joemama, who argued that “sometimes you all take movies too seriously. I loved every moment of The Box of Delights. You have to go back to your inner child, let go of reality, and relax”. Which I agree with, to a point.
However, as I pointed out right at the start of these look backs, I’m genuinely intrigued as to just how well The Box Of Delights holds up. What I’ve not told you before, though, is that I’ve been watching these with my seven year old son, and it’s as interesting watching the show through his eyes as it is my own.
And certainly, some of the points I’ve raised thus far matter not a jot to him.
Interestingly, he’s also not grumbled once about such factors as dated effect. His age certainly helps, there. But there are two further reasons for this, I’d argue. Firstly, the effects work holds up quite well. And secondly, it doesn’t really matter. Whether you like the effects or not, they hold the story together in the right places, and don’t get in the way. No matter how fake the snow may sometimes look!
Moving specifically onto In The Darkest Cellars Underneath, then. And all considered, this third episode of The Box Of Delights is, for long periods, even more padded than the last one.
This time, it picks up directly from the sort-of cliffhanger last time, with Robert Stephens modelling his fetching dressing gown, and sneering with sinister style at the screen.
Stephens’ Abner Brown is growing into the show as we’re being allowed to see more of him, and coming across as a strong, effective antagonist. And while we don’t quite know why he wants the box, or how he knows about it, we wouldn’t want to get in his way on one of his tirades. It helps that, even when he’s huffing and puffing, he gets such lovely lines to say, though. The adaptation does John Masefield a real service, not least to his use of language.
Abner’s five minute-plus rant gets the episode off to quite a slow start, in truth, but as with the Inspector last week, it’s sometimes just fun to spend time in the company of a character, without a fast-paced narrative in the background. If you feel that way, too, then you’ll be pleased to hear we get a bit more from the Inspector again here.
We also get what always strikes me as a puzzling lack of concern permeating the episode, about some of the main characters.
Caroline Louisa is missing at one point, and they leave it until the morning to work out what to do, with barely a shrug of the shoulders. I appreciate that the setting of the show means they can’t actually do much about it (this isn’t an era of calling the AA on a mobile phone), but I do wonder if a bit more worry wouldn’t have gone amiss (Kay, incidentally, has a suspicion that the telegram from her is fake, but doesn’t follow it up).
More urgently, the disappearance of Maria is a far greater cause for concern, one that barely seems to be bothering anyone at all. It’s one of those rare moments in The Box Of Delights where it just didn’t ring true.
It does seem that most of In Darkest Cellars Underneath is treading water, if we’re being frank. Again, it’s a lovely show to spend time in the company of, but for large swathes of this episode, not much happens. Or things happen, and people aren’t bothered about them. We don’t even get Patrick Troughton, just a glimpse of presumably a double’s coat as he pegs it out of the door.
However, as always, there’s more to enjoy here than grumble about. And I’m not just talking about the pirate rats spitting out a glorious rendition “there they arrrrrr!”, although that always helps.
No: even when the story is at its slightest, Renny Rye’s production has a feel to it that it’s hard to convey in words. And I had that cemented by seeing my son utterly glued to what I’d otherwise think is a fairly forgettable episode. Given that our home has no serving staff, no children in short trousers, and no Patrick Troughton putting on a Punch And Judy show, it’s not a world that’s particularly easy to relate to at times for him. But he’s been engrossed for three weeks running now. And, as a consequence, so have I.
The back end of the episode, too, ups the ante, with a burglary, and the small (literally) matter of our young heroes about to head over a waterfall come the glorious end credits music. And even before that, we had some genuine unnerving moments, as Kay’s dreams flashed up some images that quickly sent out chills. It was almost like junior Shutter Island at one point. The insertion of almost out-of-the-blue creepy moments (the woman in the woods wouldn’t be out of place in Japanese horror) keeps the nerves on edge, certainly.
Come the end, it’s another forced cliffhanger, you could argue, but a satisfactory one. And things seem to be slowly escalating in time for the next episode, The Spider In The Web. That’ll take us past the half way point, and heading towards that ending…
Read our look back at the last episode, here.