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35 Years of Willows - Part 3

January 21, 2019

A review of The Wind in the Willows (Original Feature Film, 1983). Chapter 1: The River Bank (Opening Shots).

 

The opening of Cosgrove Hall's original film of The Wind in the Willows is almost like a hark back opening of Disney fairy tale movies, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Sleeping Beauty. We start with a book, which lies on  tabletop surrounded by various Edwardian artefacts.

Note the letter seen under the pressed flowers is in fact addressed to a 'Mr. K...' That very envelope still exists today (as part of the Cosgrove Hall Archive) and is in fact addressed to Mr Kenneth Grahame himself. Cosgrove Hall were, indeed, always very particular about fine detail. 

In addition, the letters seen also exist today. What's interesting is the way this opening shot has been framed, hiding many key words that suggest the text even has anything to do with Grahame - but the fact that it's there is a lovely touch and, again, a testament to the attention to detail in the film. Here you can read the original letter exactly as it was written, quoting letters as originally written to Alistair, Grahame's son, by the author himself, when the stories of The Wind in the Willows began taking shape in the early 1900's.

As the camera slowly zooms in towards the book it gently opens and we delve into a typical Edwardian photo album, which treats us to a beautiful shot of a river.This is where the title of the film appears, and both Kenneth Grahame and Rosemary Anne Sisson (who adapted the text for screen) are credited. Here is a snippet of the original script, which describe the shots that follow...

 

This short description of our introduction to this 'world' was enough to inspire Cosgrove Hall to showcase a series of photographs, taken by Richard Smiles, that delve firstly towards a gate situated on the far bank of this river, then into a woodland that sits beyond, then deep into undergrowth ("a clump of brambles", as Sisson writes) and, eventually, down to the residence of our first main character, Mole. These shots softly dissolve into one another, accompanied by the beautiful main theme specially composed by Keith Hopwood (former lead guitarist for 60's pop band Herman's Hermits) and Malcolm Rowe. The film's director, Mark Hall, has pointed them into the direction of Vaughan Williams, among other period British composers, and the final score was arranged by Brian Ibbetson and performed by members of the Hallé Orchestra.

 

The original plan for this opening sequence was to feature an Edwardian family on the river, which was actually shot, and featured friends and family of Mark Hall, including his daughter, Rachel (on the right in the planning photo below), who went on to become an animator on later episodes in the series.

Here is a gallery of more from those original plans, as produced by Mark Hall. The various annotations give an insight into the thoughts that went on behind this sequence (eventually abandoned)..

 

 Despite these not being used (apart from the gate), some shots are 'glimpsed' at the start of the opening titles in the series, just as the book closes for each episode. The final result, in the film, at least depicts a world that (for now) appears to be human-free, gloriously dignifying that pure nature is upon us, offering a sense that we are entering the depths of an unknown little world. Mole End, through a series of similarly dissolving shots, is introduced to us until, in accordance with Sisson's script, we see a hand cleaning a window with a duster. This, the very first animation, takes us into our next scene - that of the interior of Mole End, "spring cleaning his little home" (to quote the original book). As series of shots depicting his garden offers the 'flavour' of Mole End first, which serves as a gentle, anticipated wait for the first main character's appearance, which will be discussed in the next post.