Anyone of my generation will have fond memories of Jon Pertwee as the lovable if slightly cantankerous scarecrow Worzel Gummidge. His interpretation of Barbara Euphan Todd’s 1930’s character shining on-screen from 1979 – 1981. It is therefore with some trepidation that I settled down to watch his return on BBC One this Christmas. However, this trepidation was consigned to the hedgerows within the first ten minutes. As Mackenzie Crook breathed new life into the classic character while surrounding his return with stunning cinematography, humour and imagination.
In screenplay, design and execution Crook not only delivers a marvellous reimagining of the 1930s books. But combines this with a true love for the source material. While in turn, modernising the character and the themes he represents for modern-day Britain.
Crook’s story opens with John (Thierry Wickens) and his older sister Susan (India Brown), arriving from the city at a new foster home; the Braithwaite’s of Scatterbrook Farm. However, on the journey to the farm, John notices a thin and raggedy scarecrow waving at him from his fixed pole in the fields. Something his sister is more than sceptical about as they settle into the rural isolation of the farm.
However, in due course, John is proved right as Worzel makes his introductory visit to the Braithwaite’s house. Seemingly convinced that both John and his sister are also scarecrows. And in turn, mortified when he finds out that they are humans. But as the children realise they can help Worzel. The scarecrow enlists their support in finding the key to a weather problem keeping the seasons stagnant.
From the start, Mackenzie Crook delivers a screenplay and performance that draws a line under the previous TV adaption. While also celebrating the cultural impact of the character. His version of the scarecrow bound in a delightful childlike innocence, while equally being sceptical of the human folk around him. In turn, creating dialogue and humour that sings with imagination and folklore. While weaving more modern messages on the environment and nature into its narrative. Ultimately creating a joyous, natural and almost spiritual aesthetic, as nature takes control of the world around it.
However, the pure joy of this adaptation comes from a skilful combination of superb performances with glorious cinematography, music and artistry. The narrative surrounded by love and affection for nature, countryside and the environment. Creating a TV return that goes much further than the original ever could, in bringing to life Worzel and his wondrous world.
Director: Mackenzie Crook