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Friday, June 15, 2018

The Bells of Astercote ( 1980 )

Penelope Lively's ghostly children's novel "Astercote" ( 1970 ) was brought to the small screen in 1980 as a one-hour television movie that aired the evening of December 23, following in the BBC tradition of airing ghost stories for the Yuletide season.

The Bells of Astercote, as it was renamed, was memorable to many of the little Brits who stayed up to watch it that night because of its unusual subject matter ( the Black Death ) and because it simply was an excellent production.

In the 1970s, many British childrens-based television productions were aimed towards mature youngsters, those of the 10-15 year-old age group, most of them being of the mystery, sci-fi, or "horror" genre. Unlike The Children of the Stones, the excellent 1977 mini-series that approached such diverse matter as black holes, occultism, time-loops, and energy-exuding rocks, The Bells of Astercote had a much simpler plot and yet still managed to pack in a fair amount of eeriness in its brief 50-minute run-time. It could have been an even more chilling and engrossing production had it been stretched to mini-series length like The Children of the Stones, but that did not happen. 
The Bells of Astercote tells the story of two children, Mair and Peter, who discover a simpleton named Goacher in a mysterious patch of woods. He guards a chalice that he believes protects the villagers from the Black Death, the plague. The children, who are fairly new residents of the village, are skeptical that the infamous plague of the 14th-century could return to modern-day England when so many antibiotics abound, but they soon come to realize that most of the villagers believe, like Goacher, that their health is safeguarded by that chalice. When the mysterious cup vanishes one day, Mair and Peter are as anxious as the villagers to discover its whereabouts and return the chalice to its rightful place in the forest.
The children who portrayed the lead characters, Siobhan Brooks and Ifor Williams, were quite convincing actors, as are all of the adults. Even though it is a television production and the budget was obviously limited, it is more entertaining than many of the feature films that were released that same year.  

Also in the cast is John Branwell ( The Return of the Antelope ), Davyd Harries, Kristine Howarth, and Janis Winters. 

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