Hello, Wanderers, and welcome back to the second installment of our Worst Witch GUST review. Having given you a little overview last time by looking at the original books that created the series, it’s time now to be looking towards the first adaptation of the book. The 1980’s TV movie starring Charlotte Rae, Diana Rigg, Tim Curry, and a young Fairuza Balk as our title character, Mildred Hubble.
Okay, so the first thing I need to address here is that this is NOT the version of the series that I grew up knowing as how an adaptation of the books should be done, though I am aware that for many, when you mention The Worst Witch, their minds will go directly to this incarnation. So at this point, I would like to state that all opinions stated below are exactly that, opinions. If you have one that differs from the point of view offered here, feel free to write in and tell us it! Interacting with our readers is great for us, y’know, plus any sort of feedback is always welcomed.
Right, that being said, what is this movie actually about? Well, the film follows the plot of the first book – published in 1974 – showing us the many incidents of Mildred Hubble, such as when she gets a potion wrong and turns herself invisible, and that time she turned Ethel Hallow into a pig. She meant for it to be a frog. At the same time, Miss Cackle’s notriously evil twin sister, Agatha, is plotting to take over the Academy following the Hallowe’en celebrations, which are to be attended by the Grand Wizard – Tim Curry – himself. Mildred has managed to land herself with a leading role in the Hallowe’en celebrations, and Ethel has been suspiciously kind and leant her enemy her second best broomstick. Watch out Mildred, this is surely going to be one Hallowe’en that you won’t forget in a hurry.
All in all, for a movie that lasts a little over an hour with no ad breaks, it’s a fairly simplistic plot when you get down to it. Show our protagonist as the underdog whom we’ve to root for, give her an antagonist it’s easy to dislike, and see our hero make good and save the day by the end of it all. So what are my thoughts? Well, first thing is that … it is a very 80’s movie. I don’t necessarily mean this in a bad way, but there are signs of the time period in which it was made, most notably the addition of Donna – Miss Cackle’s niece – who just had a phone installed on her broom and makes a perfect poster child for the glamour of the 1980s. The special effects used in the film also help to date it, and even for the time period, it could possibly be said that they seem, well, a bit on the cheap side of things. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, but if you are expecting high special effects, don’t look to this movie.
Fairuza Balk is a perfect little Mildred Hubble, even though Mildred is now strangely American in an apparently otherwise English school. Give her full credit though, although the adult cast are good in their roles, if sometimes appearing to just go through the motions, it’s Fairuza Balk who is constantly engaging, and clearly trying with her role in things. According to some research, this was actually her second ‘big’ role – even if, as a tv special, this was technically more minor than playing Dorothy Gale in Disney’s Return to Oz. Overall though, as decent as she was… It wasn’t enough to keep me personally engaged.
It’s not that it’s a bad movie, except that it is a little bit, but rather more that well, to me, it’s not the Worst Witch that I know and love. This was always going to be a problem coming into these reviews, but I do honestly try. So, what does the 80s movie have in its favour? Well, it is a nostalgic little cheesefest, with a surprisingly brilliant adult cast and occasional fun music number to break up the action. Yes, it does feel a little on the cheap side overall, but that, and bear with me here because this will only make sense to book readers, weirdly fits with the feel of Cackle’s itself.
Overall, it’s worth checking out even just the once. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but then nothing is, is it? Personally, for me, I think it’d be a view-very-rarely piece. I’ve seen it once so far, and I already feel like that’s enough.
Next issue we look at the 1990s television series produced by Granada. Hang on to your hats, Wanderers, and be ready for the broom rides.
Z McAspurren (is not growing up, is growing out)