Friday 28 October 2022

DVD Review: Come Back Lucy

Network continue their season of spooky releases with Come Back Lucy, an enchanting, yet equally chilling children's drama which was first broadcast on ITV in the spring of 1978. Not seen on British screens since a repeat run in 1980, the only way to view the serial in the intervening years was through a German DVD release which included an English language track. However, thanks to Network, it's now available in the UK and comes bundled with a fascinating documentary on the programme's production.

Come Back Lucy is certainly one for the afficianados of unsettling children's television and, although I certainly fall into that category, I was unaware of the serial's existence until I saw Network's press release for the DVD. Ripped versions of the German DVD appear to have been floating around on the internet for several years, but it had completely passed me by and I was born a couple of years too late to catch the series' repeat run. But, with a copy of Network's new release in my hands, it was time to acquaint myself with this ATV adaptation of Pamela Sykes' 1973 novel.

Come Back Lucy centres on the plight of young Lucy (Emma Bakhle) who, until recently, had been living in the sedate, old fashioned world generated by her elderly Aunt Olive (Aimée Delamain). However, following Aunt Olive's passing, it's time for Lucy's care to be transferred to her modern, forward thinking and much younger Aunt Gwen (Phyllida Law) and Uncle Peter (Royce Mills), along with their children Bill (Francois Evans), Patrick (Russell Lewis) and Rachel (Oona Kirsch). This radical change in environments hits Lucy hard and, despite being surrounded by relations, she feels a stranger. Until, that is, whilst up in the attic, Lucy hears the ghostly voice of Alice (Bernadette Windsor).

At the heart of Come Back Lucy there are a number of strong themes used to build Lucy's narrative, and, most notably, her sudden displacement from the sanctity of Aunt Olive's imbibes the story with a heavy theme of alienation. She feels very much like a character out of step with the modern world, much more preferring the tradition and almost Victorian values of her beloved Aunt Olive. This is juxtaposed with the modern, socialist leanings of Aunt Gwen and her family to ratchet that sense of alienation up, a move which not only provides sympathy for the out of step out Lucy but also emboldens the psychological trauma at the heart of the serial.

It's possible that this trauma is the flame which lights the touch paper for Alice to begin manifesting herself in Lucy's consciousness. Whilst there is little explanation for Alice's malevolent aims, it's a minor quibble with Come Back Lucy as Alice is simply chilling. Starting off, quite innocently, as a potential new friend, and one who is in step with Lucy's traditional outlook, Alice appears to be the kinship Lucy desperately craves. However, even in these earliest encounters, Alice is accompanied by a sinister air, disguised cleverly at first as a self-centred and overindulged personality. But the more Lucy clashes with her new family - who have even dispensed with using terms such as mother and father - the more malignant Alice's objectives become.

Being a Sunday teatime drama, which went out over the course of six episodes, Come Back Lucy is far from a horror. But, at its heart, a disconcerting air pervades every inch of the serial and this provides all the chills and awkward, disquieting moments you could ever want. The standout, for me, is a scene where Alice finally reveals herself to someone other than Lucy and, for a scene with barely any dialogue, it cuts close to the bone and brought on primeval feelings of dread. Needless to say, it's now imprinted on the inside of my eyelids. And Bernadette Windsor is to be praised for the wickedly vicious, yet sugar coated performance she brings to Alice, a true standout in terms of menace.

The ending of Come Back Lucy feels a little ordinary in the way it comes and go rather too easily, but the build up to this denouement is both disorientating and chillingly unpleasant (in a good way). And, although the last few minutes may leave you deflated, it's a testament to the overall quality of the programme (adapted, by the way, by Gail Renard and Colin Shindler) that this does little to spoil the enjoyment of watching it. Come Back Lucy, therefore, is a fine addition to the treasure chest of riches that spooky British children's television is and, thankfully, it's now easier than ever to watch.

Come Back Lucy is now available on DVD from Network

1 comment:

  1. I remember that barely. I do remember it was one that was slightly scary. Network are a treasure.

    I wish they would get the rights from the Beeb for the Play for Tomorrow series. They are DVD-worth.