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Chronicles of Narnia, The (1988-90)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Chronicles of Narnia, The (1988-90)
BBC in association with Wonderworks, 13/11/1988-23/12/1990
18 episodes in 3 seasons (colour)
Based on the novels byC.S. Lewis
Dramatised byAlan Seymour
ProducerPaul Stone
DirectorsMarilyn Fox
 Alex Kirby

Cast: Richard Dempsey (Peter), Sophie Cook (Susan), Jonathan R. Scott (Edmund); Sophie Wilcox (Lucy); Barbara Kellermann (White Witch); Ronald Pickup (voice of Aslan); Jean-Marc Perret (Prince Caspian); Tom Baker (Puddleglum); David Thwaites (Eustace); Camilla Power (Jill Pole); Barbara Kellerman (The Green Lady); Richard Henders (The Knight/Prince Rilian)

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During WWII, four evacuee children find a gateway to another world at the back of an old wardrobe. The magical Land of Narnia is in permanent winter, its throne usurped by the White Witch. The children must restore Aslan, Narnia's rightful lion king, to his throne.

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The best known of C.S.Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, aired first in 1988. The tale sees the four Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmund, discover an ancient land of magic through the back of an old wardrobe. Here in Narnia, weak-willed Edmund falls to the temptations of the evil White Witch and her promises of never-ending Turkish Delight. The deposed lion king, Aslan, sacrifices himself to the Witch to rescue him.

The thinly disguised allegory of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection can seem patronising to those who see through it, but there is no doubting the power of a tale involving ultimate good versus ultimate evil, temptation, treachery and redemption. Excellent production values included location work in England, Wales and Scotland and an array of special effects, most realised using emerging Quantel Paintbox techniques. One of the weaker aspects was the rather static Aslan 'puppet', although its movement improved in later seasons.

Lewis wrote seven Narnia books, but adaptations of the prequel The Magician's Nephew and The Horse and His Boy were dropped for logistical reasons, and the epic Last Battle proved too expensive. In the second story, the two-part Prince Caspian, the children are summoned back to Narnia by boy prince Caspian,whose wicked Uncle Miraz plans to kill him and place his own newborn son on Narnia's throne. Peter takes on Miraz in armed combat for the right to the kingship. The story is slight but necessary to introduce Caspian, who returns as a teenage King in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

This four-part quest MacGuffin sees Lucy, Edmund and insufferable cousin Eustace accompany Caspian through the uncharted seas of the East (in reality the Scilly Isles) to find the seven lost Lords of Narnia, banished by Miraz. Obstacles include a sea serpent, an alchemist's fountain, dragon treasure and invisible monopods. The star throughout was the impressive Dawn Treader sailing ship.

The final Chronicle was another rather rambling quest epic, The Silver Chair, in which Eustace and Jill travelled through a Tolkienesque landscape to find lost Prince Rilian, aided by Puddleglum the Marshwiggle.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
1. Arrival (2:38)
2. Into Narnia (4:28)
3. Telling tales (0:55)
Complete episode: 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' (29:22)
Production stills
Children's Fantasy and SF
Children's TV Drama
TV Literary Adaptation