Ian Holm’s back as minute Pod Clock, father of the family of tiny Borrowers, with Penelope Wilton again as wife Homily and Rebecca Callard reprising their teenage daughter, Arrietty. They’re setting up for more hazards after their initial foray on TNT in 1993. First half of Richard Carpenter’s teleplay dawdles, but the second night picks up considerably; “The Return of the Borrowers” is full family fare, a charming and attractive package from Britain.
The Clocks, living out of the way of “human beans” between floors and in attics, are at most 6 inches tall and live as the beans do — or try to. They survive uncomfortably with Homily’s dreadful sister Lupy (Pamela Cundell), whose two wicked sons, Ditchley (Ben Chaplin) and Illrick (Ross McCall), delight in making the Clocks’ situation not only unpleasant but dangerous.
Called Borrowers because they forage life’s necessities from among the beans’ belongings — they’re actually miniature thieves — the Clocks are tricked by the boys into leaving the house and settling for the moment in a tea kettle. Their independent young friend Spiller (returning Daniel Newman), living by his wits, helps them travel downstream with a silverware caddy secured for them by their human friend George (Paul Cross) despite nasty housekeeper Mrs. Driver (Sian Phillips of “I, Claudius” renown).
Pod and Homily endure a storm in a teapot when the brothers seal them inside. All works out, of course, and they eventually land in a model village being set up by eccentric Mr. Pott (Richard Vernon).
Production expertise and thesping make the wee ones credible, though the storyline, based on two of the late Mary Norton’s novels, is routine. It’s the cunning use of overlarge sets and props (latter don’t always convince), individualized clothes designed by Nic Ede, and talk between beans and Borrowers that prove involving. Outsize objects, lenser Clive Tucker’s choice of angles, blue-screen technology involving composite shots and low-level lighting develop exacting perspectives.
Acting’s adventurous, with Holm and real-life wife Wilton limning able chasers of domesticity and Newman’s well-realized Spiller supplying some Huck Finn. Phillips’ mean Mrs. Driver is a good villain, and Chaplin grabs attention with his vicious Ditchley.
Strong youngster entertainment, the four-hour program directed by John Henderson with no cuteness in evidence should catch the eye of parents as well. David Yardley’s editing is solid, and Howard Goodall’s score is lovely.
Another version of the original “Borrowers” aired in 1973 with Eddie Albert as Pod, Tammy Grimes as Homily and Arrietty played by Karen Pearson. It, too, was charming.