JOHN HAMBLEY, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF COSGROVE HALL PRODUCTIONS, TELLS HOW THEY APPROACHED THE ADAPTATION OF A CLASSIC BOOK INTO AN ANIMATED FILM.
The classics of English children’s literature are a privileged inheritance, treasures to be freely shared and lovingly passed on in the hope of fresh responses from new generations. Except for THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS. That, it seems, is a work which is taken immediately into the private and exclusive ownership of each one of its readers. How else to explain the reactions my colleagues and I have had to the news that we are turning Kenneth Grahame’s beautiful story into an animated film?
“Oh no, you mustn’t!” has been the most familiar cry, together with more vigorous versions of the same instruction. They have come from mature adults who, once persuaded that we really were embarking on this audacious venture, have confirmed their claim to ownership by giving us minutely detailed orders on how to do things “exactly as in the book”. We have had opinions on Badger’s age and the Water Rat’s complexion, on the dialect and the cut of Toad’s waistcoat, on what to include and what (should we dare) to omit. Unfortunately all opinions have differed, so we have been unable to comply. But we have gained a special insight into the impact the book has had on so many British childhoods, and a particular sense of responsibility towards those who love it as well as to the larger new readership that television can stimulate.
Out approach for both these audiences has been to try to recreate as accurately as we can the world that Kenneth Grahame wrote about. So the film is set in the Edwardian England of 1908 when the book was first published, and we have taken pains to see that costumes, cars and even countryside are as authentic as research and the skills of our staff can make. For example we have designed and printed our own fabrics in miniature because nothing ready-made today is suitable and studied railway livery of the period for scenes which are merely glimpsed, and checked the author’s own sources of eighty years ago. Rosemary Anne Sisson’s script is equally careful, using Graham’s own words where they serve the need for succinct film dialogue, or managing to capture the proper idiom when they do not. The music too, composed specially by Keith Hopwood and Malcolm Rowe, has its roots in the English pastoral themes of Vaughan Williams and Delius or – mainly for Toad – in the perky rhythms of the Edwardian music hall.