directed by freddie francis
ronald j. kahn productions/fitzroy films ltd.
Crikey, guv’nor, but I was completely unprepared for this daft family affair. A madcap mansion full of boarded-up rooms and determinedly whimsical antics, this glimpse of roles assumed and roles played trips merrily along almost without stopping to take a breath. It’s difficult at times to decipher just which character is the maddest or the most amusing: arch and imperious Mumsy; stolid, staunch Nanny; mercurial and vindictive Girly; or resolute, sadistic Sonny. Sonny and Girly’s arrested adolescence romps uneasily under the deliberately blurred depiction of Mumsy and Nanny’s relationship; meanwhile, the whole lot is murderous. Acquiring and discarding “new playmates” is the order of every day, and just what comprises the Rules that must be followed is up for debate. A certain sense of propriety – strange, considering the preoccupations – guides the engagements.
If I could recall the path I followed to this picture, I might be able to answer that question. Maybe it just sounded … different.
It struck me as something like Alice’s trip to Wonderland as conflated with Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, represented in a stately British country manor house.
As “Mumsy,” Ursula Howells is utterly charming and clearly disturbed in equal measure, while Vanessa Howard’s “Girly” eventually betrays much more depth of character than meets the eye … given that she spends almost the entirety of the film wearing a schoolgirl outfit several inches too short in the skirt. Once some of the mayhem starts clearing up, well along in the adventure, comes the intimation that the relationships betwixt the denizens of the house may be more fluid than one theretofore had guessed. It’s the merest hint, but potent.