The Correct Way to Watch BBC’s Narnia TV Series | Talking Beasts
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Netflix won’t be the first to attempt a multi-episode adaptation of The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. In 1988, BBC adapted The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe into a 6-part television serial. But, recent DVD releases have presented the episodes as one 3-hour piece.
Many NarniaWebbers, whether they like them or not, have a strong sense of nostalgia about these adaptations. This season premiere is just the first part of our long-requested analysis. Listen and post a comment below!
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I loved the old fashioned look of the series. It’s true that the technology was not today’s, but I liked it that the series was filmed in the UK, which I think is the proper location. I always pictured Narnia to be more like England than New Zealand. I loved the music by Geoffey Burgon and believe it was the best part since it is much like classical music (symphonies). The older DVD set with the lion on the cover has the series as three hour movies. The never one has the 25 minute episodes. (I own both sets.) It may be better to have them as movies since the story is uninterrupted. However, the remastering of the newer DVD’s is a little better (better picture and sound). The best of the TV stories is “The Silver Chair” with Tom Baker as Puddleglum. He is a wonderful actor, and I loved him as Dr. Who. The children were not professional actors so I wouldn’t be too hard on them. The White Witch a bit exaggerated and ridiculous, although I did like her portrayal.
This is an interesting podcast and generally a thoughtful review. It would be nice to have a podcast on the Focus on the Family radio theatre.
I want to be careful when I write about the BBC Narnia adaptation. You see when I was younger and much less mature, I read some people on Narniaweb who felt that the BBC was infinitely superior to the Walden Media adaptation. While I understood this point of view theoretically, they way they phrased their comments really got under my skin because they gave the impression that the fans who appreciated the BBC were the “real” fans who really understood the essence of Narnia whereas the fans who preferred the Walden were shallow, unsophisticated, etc. (Don’t worry. It wasn’t any of you regular commentators for this podcast. This was a long time ago in Narniaweb history before I became a regular listener of the podcast.) So I responded by getting a bit insulting about the BBC sort of out of revenge. I felt that if they were going to “insult” the movies to which I was emotionally attached, they deserved to have the miniseries to which they were emotionally attached attacked. This, I think, made them more defensive and snippier and probably added to their perception of people who preferred the Walden to the BBC as juvenile. Now I kind of wish I could go back and have those discussions again because I feel could explain my point of view to them more eloquently and maturely and make them see why I felt their attitude was snobby and hurtful.
So I really want to avoid giving the impression in my comments that fans who prefer any particular version are the real fans. There are real fans who prefer the BBC to the Walden, real fans who prefer the Walden to the BBC, real fans who enjoy both and real fans who don’t like either. What makes us real fans is the fact that we love (or at least like) the books. That we disagree over adaptations should make us intrigued by each other, not angry.
It’s interesting that this episode praised the BBC miniseries for creating atmosphere near the beginning. While I agree that the script does this, I really don’t get a “spooky” vibe from the professor’s house. The set strikes me as boring compared to Lewis’ descriptions (and the Walden movie) and the music….yeah, this part of my comments going to be controversial. The music doesn’t really do anything for me. I feel like the set should have incorporated more details from the book so we get more of an idea why the house is interesting to explore. As it is, I feel like there needs to be more of a reason why we’re spending so much time watching these kids just explore a house.
I’ve heard some people say the child actors in this series were bad before and I never really felt that way. But listening to the first clip of Susan in this episode….yikes! I wasn’t a huge fan of her but I didn’t remember her sounding that robotic. Maybe it’s just because she’s trying to explain something to Edmund who is being really thickheaded. I really like the actor for Tumnus. His voice creates a nice atmosphere. I can understand the criticism in this episode that his redemption comes out of nowhere. FWIW that’s kind of how it feels in the book but I suppose a really dedicated actor would have tried to invest his performance with a subtext which makes the emotional beats of Tumnus’ inner journey clearer.
It’s really cool that you’re going through this adaptation episode by episode. To answer the question in this episode’s title, I imagine that the serial format is better for watching this series because that’s how it was created. But I really don’t see how that deflects criticism of it being unengaging. The way I see it if a show has cliffhangers and you don’t want to binge watch it, something’s wrong.
While I honestly don’t feel that the first entrance to Narnia comes across as particularly creepy in the book, (I’d say mildly creepy at most; generally just intriguing) I agree that it’s better to have the scene be at nighttime. Night makes snowy landscapes look that much cooler!
I’d love an episode on the Radio Theatre adaptation too! But as birds say, nests before eggs. 😉
It’s interesting that you like the look of miniseries of this era. I find it distracting visually when television series are filmed on Video. (I believe that’s what those cameras are called.) It keeps me from fully enjoying old miniseries which I like more than this one. It’s nice that television serials don’t have to use those kinds of cameras anymore.
I thought the miniseries was filmed in Scotland actually. (At least parts of it were.) Odd mistake on my part.
A clearer picture would nicer, but I liked the old fashioned sets and landscapes. That is what I liked about the appearance of the series. There are the castles and old houses which they have in the UK (remember the magician’s house in Voyage of the Dawn Treader?). Of course the new technology and new cameras would give you a better view, but I think the location filming (England, Scotland, and Wales) was one of the best things about the old series. In the new movies they made sets which looked like Lord of the Rings in New Zealand,. Those expensive sets may have been too extravagant. Of course it’s just my own personal taste, but I like the antique medieval look much better. 🙂
Wait. Is Scotland actually part of the UK? If it is, that was dumb of me to forget. I mostly think of Ireland and England when I think of the UK.
The first Narnia film I ever saw was actually BBC Silver Chair, so I guess I do have some nostalgia with that one, but I didn’t see any of the others until after I’d seen the Walden ones… which kind of made it harder to like the BBC series. I guess the CGI spoiled me a bit. Though the fact that they didn’t use CGI did make the scenery more enjoyable sometimes.
Hi Rilian and Gymfan,
Brilliantly done, both of you! I only fairly recently discovered your website and have been enjoying listening to some of the previous podcasts.
I am just thrilled that you’re doing a series on the BBC version of Narnia, as there doesn’t seem to be much else about it on NarniaWeb and I’m definitely in the camp of those for whom this is MAJOR nostalgia. I was about 8 years old when the four BBC adaptations were first shown on TV (in Australia, where I grew up) and I’d only fairly recently read and loved all seven of the Chronicles, so I think I was at just the right age and stage to really appreciate them.
Totally agree with your analysis, especially your comment “This is just like the book!” — that sums up a whole lot of what’s good, and also what’s not so good, about the BBC adaptations. They really are so, so faithful to the books, which is why I love them. But at the same time, as you say, that leads to them sometimes being rather dry and clunky and not enough “show rather than tell”, from a cinematic point of view. It’s as if the screenplay writers have tried to translate everything straight from the page to the screen a little TOO literally and haven’t always stopped to think “Right, the book tells us in words what these characters are thinking and feeling — now how can we SHOW that in visuals and build up that impression in the audience’s minds without having to spell it out?”
That said, I also agree about the lack of special effects sometimes being an advantage. I’m not a fan of the Walden movie of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (I haven’t seen the other two) simply because, while it was a brilliant piece of cinema, it SERIOUSLY overdoes the action scenes (the chase with the White Witch, the massive armies going to battle and so on). To me, it just completely loses the “feel” of Narnia, which the BBC version, despite all its limitations, usually manages to capture pretty well — again because it follows the books so closely, and the books in most cases build up the excitement steadily but gradually and in a gentle, understated sort of way.
I think it’s worth pointing out, by the way, that some of the really-not-so-special effects in the BBC series were clumsy even for their time, but they were done on a low budget and LONG before CGI effects were anything like they are now. We knew it was hokey and we laughed at it even as kids, but we also just accepted it because back then, that’s what a lot of fantasy stories ended up looking like when translated into live-action screen versions!!
Also loved your comments about how the music really makes this series what it is. I just LOVE the theme tune — for me, that is THE Narnia theme and nothing else can compare — and the way the background music builds up the atmosphere perfectly.
Can’t wait for the future episodes and especially looking forward to hearing what you’ll have to say about Barbara Kellerman — ha ha ha! “And WHAT, pray, are YOU??” ;o)
“So I really want to avoid giving the impression in my comments that fans who prefer any particular version are the real fans. There are real fans who prefer the BBC to the Walden, real fans who prefer the Walden to the BBC, real fans who enjoy both and real fans who don’t like either. What makes us real fans is the fact that we love (or at least like) the books. That we disagree over adaptations should make us intrigued by each other, not angry.”
By the way, yes, Scotland IS part of the UK. Ireland isn’t, but Northern Ireland is… no, it’s not at all confusing!!
Actually, I’d have to agree with you on the music. It has its moments, but a lot of times it’s way weaker than it should be. (Re-watch the “battle scenes” and you’ll see what I mean.) I’ve heard at least one other Geoffrey Burgon soundtrack and wasn’t too impressed with that either. A lot of times it just comes across as inappropriate to the mood of the scene.
As for the sets (I’m talking about indoor scenes here) I go back and forth on those. I appreciate their using real castles, and the White Witch’s castle is just a little bit more like the book description. The house, however, is kind of boring. The wardrobe and spare room were pretty unimpressive and cheap-looking, whereas they both are supposed to belong to the era of carved panels and sturdy, solid-looking timber.
I personally prefer the Walden version of the lamppost woods, but I’m hoping that Netflix goes the night-time route again.
On the whole, the only parts of the BBC series that I actually like are the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (because the Walden one was almost worse) and the Silver Chair (because it’s the only version that exists).
I believe the UK includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Isn’t the country of Ireland separate and does not include the smaller northern part?
I remember seeing these episodes on PBS about 100 years ago. Ran into a VHS video with a few extra minutes on LWW. Need to get my own copies and watch it again.
BBC might have also been my first exposure to Narnia (I can’t remember for sure if it was.) I saw parts of them when I was a little kid, but I didn’t watch them all the way through the until I was a about 13 or so, and I actually did watch them as episodes instead of a 3-hour tv movie yet still thought it was incredibly boring, so I’m not sure how much of a difference it really makes. Lol
This is a little off topic, but I don’t really agree with Gp’s statement that “the Narnia books are about nothing if not atmosphere”. I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to knock Gp for enjoying that element of the books, to each their own (and this is probably just a matter of taste anyway.) But personally I’ve never thought that the atmospheric aspect of the books was particularly noteworthy. I mean, yes Lewis was great at efficiently establishing the feel of the setting and drawing the reader into the world of the story, but I don’t think I would say that is what makes the books feel unique. I think that has more to do with the general tone of the series.
I loved the BBC versions. Any effort to put these works by CS Lewis on film or television I have to admire. One problem right off in the first episode is that both Lucy and Edmond put on coats in their individual first trips to Narnia. In the books none of the children wear the fur coats till they all go in together. This is important because it shows that the both Lucy and Edmond were cold and alone and thus more vulnerable when they meet Mr Thomas and the White Witch. I would think that a BBC version that wanted to follow the book more carefully would have caught this point.
As someone who has lived in both countries I can see why it’s a bit confusing to understand:
The UK includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and is one sovereign state made up of 4 countries.
When people refer to ‘Britain’ or ‘Great Britain’ they are usually only referring to Scotland, Wales and England which are all on one island, and leaving out Northern Ireland – this term is used mainly for mapping.
The Republic of Ireland is a separate, independent country with it’s own completely separate government from the UK – and includes most of the isle of Ireland except for Northern Ireland which is part of the UK.
I’m sure you’ll have googled it already but I hope this helps to clarify?
The reason for the lack of coats is that they were filming in real snow and the actors would have been too cold. Which is a shame because I agree it would have been better without them initially. It makes Lucy and Edmund feel even more incongruous.
I’m not at all ashamed to admit this (yet again): The BBC Narnia films persuaded me to seek out C.S. Lewis’s books. I was first introduced to Narnia through BBC’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” when I was 4 or 5 years old. I remember loving it. Later when I was 9-10 years old I came across the book as a 3rd grader and read it solely because of my good memories of the BBC movie. A year or two later, Walden’s film was realeased, which at the time I considered a shorter, bigger-budgeted remake of BBC. (With regards to the later stories, I had no idea there were follow ups to LWW until I caught BBC’s “The Silver Chair” on television when I was around 7. I saw all BBC Narnia adaptations concurrently with hearing all the books on audio when I was 11-12.)
I thought the houses that were used in the BBC series were very good. The professor’s house looked quite historic, and the magician’s house in Voyage of the Dawn Treader had a mysterious appearance. The houses were an intriguing addition to location filming. They were old world houses, which I think were better than the one that appeared in the air in the movie’s Dawn Treader. However, I liked the scene with the magician’s book in both the movie and BBC series– the adaptation of that part was really good in both of them. I don’t understand why Lucy (Georgie Henley) turned into Susan (Anna Popplewell ) in the mirror scene. That was too much of a departure from the book.
Larry, very little was filmed in New Zealand in Walden’s PC. Most of it was in Europe.
The only NZ location in VDT is the volcanic island (brief as it isn’t a place to hang around on!)
Siver chair is best
That’s interesting that you specifically liked Coriakin’s house. I thought it had too many windows which made it look too cheerful and not mysterious enough. (I thought the White Witch’s House was a much better but that’s an upcoming episode.)
I did like the Voyage of the Dawn Treader miniseries better than the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe though. (You’ve got to love those dufflepuds!) Part of me wishes the podcast was discussing that one instead of this one. But I understand why they want to do LWW since it’s the one people are most likely to watch.
When I watch old episodes of Dr. Who with Tom Baker I notice that there are some old houses and other charming locations in England which would have been good for a Narnia film. I don’t think there is any shortage of historical places in England or the UK.
Actually, I would have liked it better if the all the filming was done in the UK. It would have made the films look more British and authentic. Narnia to me is much more like that location than elsewhere in Europe or anywhere else in the world. And they were able to keep the entire BBC series in the UK, which shows that it was possible.
Nests before eggs indeed! I love the the radio versions – mostly because they made all seven, and they sound a lot like described movies (which I have a huge collection of)! I never actually heard them on the radio, but I found them on YouTube and listen to them frequently.
Ahh, the BBC version… yeah, powerful nostalgia for sure. Yes it has its problems, and yes I kind of have mixed feelings about certain aspects (in fact I just wrote a blog post on the subject), and they are definitely not very “binge-watchable”. But I’m with Timmy-of-Oz: any attempt to bring Narnia to life is okay in my book!
btw that crack about the walk-in closet was awesome! “I used to look in to see if Narnia was there – and it kinda was!” 😀 Seriously tho I think it’s hard for any Narnia fan to grow up with a walk-in closet and NOT think of the wardrobe. I know I did.
You think so? I definitely like it, but IMO it’s got some serious problems. The White Witch apparently survived in this version of Narnia (which isn’t too far-fetched, cuz she just fell at the end of LWW). And the marsh-wiggle went from Puddleglum to Puddledepressed, not nearly as good as the radio version IMO.
But all snarky wise-cracks aside, I really do like the BBC Silver Chair. It was definitely the least boring of the series, a big adventure with magic and man-eating giants and an underground kingdom, all revolving around Narnia! So I guess I kind of agree. 🙂
I really enjoyed Geoffrey Burton’s music and found it majestic and moving. It is available on a soundtrack CD with a newer recording. To my knowledge the BBC’s Dawn Treader score wasn’t released. That is unfortunate since I like it the best. At times the movie soundtracks seem a bit too modern, although I also like them. I purchased both the BBC’s music and the movies (the first and third films) and believe they are all well worth owning. I guess people have different tastes, but I will continue to enjoy what I like. 🙂
Geoffrey Burgon— sorry about the typo error. 🙂
Finally getting around to re-watching the first half hour of LWW and listening to this podcast. I love the idea of going in-depth on these. This is what fandom is all about lol
I have to say I enjoyed the first episode more than I’ve enjoyed BBC Narnia in a while. I really like the idea of breaking them into half hour chunks. I knew that it was a miniseries, but never watched it that way until now. I have a feeling LWW will watch much better as a minseries than as a three-hour movie. The length and slow pacing is what often keeps me from revisiting these.
Things I liked this time around:
– As others have said, the music is a highlight. I love how mysterious it sounds. My favourite is the theme that plays when Edmund first gets into the wardrobe and later again when he meets the White Witch.
– The Pevensies’ dialogue. I like that they sound like they belong in the same era as the books. I don’t like how the Walden movies tried to update the dialogue.
– The summer flashback when Lucy falls asleep. It could have been better, but I like actually seeing what Narnia was like instead of just seeing shapes in the fireplace.
What I disliked:
– The acting still leaves much to be desired. That’s probably the most jarring difference between this and Walden’s LWW.
And that’s honestly about it. There were a couple nitpicky things I noticed while watching, but they mustn’t have been that significant because they slipped from my mind.
I’m looking forward to the rest of this series!