As a five-year-old, I was introduced to Nina Bawden's novel by means of this serialisation. Thirty years on, I continue to revel in watching it on video and consider it far superior to the 2004 remake.
Essentially, the story concerns the evacuation in the Second World War of two London children, twelve-year-old Carrie Willow and her ten-year-old brother, Nick, to a mining village in South Wales. However, the war provides little more than a chronological setting. Of far more importance are the children's - particularly Carrie's - experiences and their interaction with the different people they encounter, in a place far away, physically and culturally, from home.
Carrie and Nick are billeted at a grocer's shop, with the formidable Mr. Evans and his oppressed sister, Auntie Lou. Their friend Albert Sandwich is staying at Druid's Bottom, a large country house owned by the Evanses' sister Mrs. Gotobed, looked after by wise country woman Hepzibah Green and the simpleton Mr. Johnny. Gradually, the children adapt to and begin to enjoy their new lives in Wales. However, just before they leave, Carrie performs a deed which she comes to believe has had the most terrible consequences. Only thirty years later, as a widow with two children, is she able to return to South Wales to confront her past.
Juliet Waley is a thoughtful, mature Carrie whilst Andrew Tinney is cheeky and humorous as Nick. Tim Coward conveys effectively the teenage awkwardness of Albert. (Interestingly, none of the children pursued a career in acting, although Juliet Waley was in 'Angels'. Andrew Tinney was a prominent member of the Young Conservatives in the 1980s). Avril Elgar is suitably cowed as Auntie Lou, in contrast to the worldliness of her sister Mrs. Gotobed, as played by Patsy Smart. Matthew Guinness plays the difficult role of Mr. Johnny with charm and innocence whilst Sean Arnold (later head master Mr. Llewellyn in 'Grange Hill') is suitably bumptious as Frederick Evans.
However, for me, the series is 'made' by the performances of Aubrey Richards as Mr. Evans and Rosalie Crutchley as Hepzibah. The role of Mr. Evans, the hard, mean, narrow, Puritanical, Chapel devotee with a surprisingly tender side, is played to perfection by Mr. Richards. He evokes every emotion from the viewer from contempt to tremendous pity. The final scene between him and Carrie at the house is quite heartbreaking. Miss Crutchley combines most effectively the motherliness and mystery of Hepzibah Green, the very shrewd country woman. Perhaps this is best shown when she entrances the children and Mr. Johnny with her tale of the fair during her girlhood in Somerset.
The 1974 'Carrie's War' television series is a masterpiece. It conveys superbly the contrasting characters and the atmosphere of mystery of Nina Bawden's story. It is much more Welsh in its characterisations and settings than the 2004 remake.
Unfortunately, it may be difficult to find. I purchased the video about eight years ago but it no longer seems to be available. Keep looking - it is worth it, to see this superlative piece of television.
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