Julian Fellowes on the enduring charm of these books.
‘From Time to Time is based on the second in the Green Knowe series entitled The Chimneys of Green Knowe and it was to this particular book that Fellowes turned when he came to writing his script. Perhaps the most well-known of the books is the first in the series, The Children of Green Knowe, however, for Fellowes, “Chimneys is the best and the one with the cleanest narrative, in that you have the Regency story within the main story, and I have always thought it would make a great film.” To this end, Fellowes tried to develop the project several years ago, but it was only after winning an Oscar for his writing of ‘Gosford Park’ that he was able more easily to raise the finance and start moving forward with the film.
Eliza Bennett as Susan
In the meanwhile, producer Liz Trubridge had also read the book and thoroughly enjoyed it, so she approached novelist Lucy M. Boston’s estate in order to secure the rights. Diana Boston (Lucy’s daughter-in-law) now runs the estate and lives in the house on which Green Knowe is based. Says Trubridge: “I went to see the house and Diana told me it was Julian’s favourite children’s book, so I wrote to Julian, we met, and he explained that he had already written a script and we worked on it together from then on. The project wanted to be made. Julian was so willing and had wanted to make it for so long. It just seemed like it was the right time.”
Douglas Booth as Sefton
Trubridge continues: “The rights had just become available again and Diana was looking to renew them, and she very kindly let us have a go. We took the script to Ealing Studios and they came on board straight away.” Production started on the film in October 2008 and the film was shot at locations around London, Athelhampton House in Dorset and at Ealing Studios for six weeks.
From Book to FilmFellowes explains: “Adapting is always a curious thing. I may find one film in any given book, but others would find different films, and sometimes, if the book is enormous, it’s a question of which film are we going to make? In this instance it’s not a tremendously long book, so in that sense, the adaptation was cleaner. But what I have really altered is that in the book, the grandmother/grandson relationship, or great-grandmother in the original, is in a way rather bland; they get on very well, everything is fine and she tells him this story. That doesn’t really work in a film, as they have to have their own life.”
Alex Etel & Maggie Smith on set
He continues: “So now there is a dynamic between grandmother and grandson in that she doesn’t like his mother and she doesn’t really know him. That’s also a useful tool for a film maker because it means that Tolly comes to the house as an outsider which means he and the audience learn about the house together. Also, this slight dissonance creates electricity between Mrs. Oldknow and Tolly which works very well.”
For Liz Trubridge, it was important that the story was adapted in such a way, that the film would appeal to adults and children alike. She explains: “Julian and I felt very strongly that this should be a real family film in the truest sense of the words, in that parents and grandparents would take children, but that they would get as much from it as their kids did. This is another of Julian’s strengths - he writes on so many levels there is something there across the board for everybody to enjoy.”
The StoryFellowes explains “One of the odd things about the story is that all the events within it are separated by time, but happen in the same geographical place. Since I was a child, I’ve been intrigued by the strange concept that whenever you live in a house there will be many, many people who have lived and died there before you.”
Eliza Bennett (Susan) and Kwayedza Kureya (Jacob)
In this way, Fellowes was able to set the two tales alongside one another, whilst giving the film a flowing narrative. He explains: “Really it’s like two stories – two films that are plaited together. One is set in the Regency and the other in the Second World War. I hope an audience will find similar elements of acceptance and lack of prejudice in the stories from both periods. In 1809, we have Jacob, an escaped black American slave boy who joins an English family and, in 1944, another boy, Tolly, comes to stay with his grandmother who dislikes her daughter-in-law. So there are parallels reflected in each era – unthinking prejudice in both stories – which are resolved.”
Timothy Spall (shown on right), who plays Boggis in the film, was enormously interested in the multi-layered aspect of the narrative: “It’s a beautifully told story about more than one thing. It’s a ghost story, a mystery and a very entertaining family film. But it’s also a journey about coming to terms with loss from war – the loss of a father for Tolly and the loss of a son for Mrs. Oldknow – but then being able to carry on seeing that person, or being with them and feeling them. It’s glorious.”
Carice van Houten, who plays Maria, agrees: “I thought the script was perfect. It’s written so well that it’s easy to play it. It works, it’s sweet and it’s a tearjerking story. At the first read-through I had tears in my eyes. I’ve never experienced that before at a read-through, but it’s very touching, especially the story between Tolly and Mrs. Oldknow.”
Carice van Houten and Dominic West
For producer Liz Trubridge, the eras within which the film is set threw up an interesting dichotomy: “Both stories are set in times of war, the Second World War and the Napoleonic War and the film shows how people in the countryside in 1809 really were untouched by the war. Except for the fact that Captain Oldknow has to go off and leave Maria on her own, life really went on pretty much as normal, whereas in 1944 everybody was greatly impacted and I think that contrast is very striking.”
[Information courtesy of Milk Publicity]
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