The Wind in the Willows



9-10:30 p.m., Sunday, April 8
KCET (Los Angeles)

Why not mount an entirely new production of Kenneth Grahame's classic tale "The Wind in the Willows"? Some stories just live on forever, and this is certainly one of them. This beloved children's classic, being presented on PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre" in high definition, is about as updated as it can get, yet still retains the charm of Grahame's Edwardian-era characters. Here they are, animals fleshed out by real actors and knowing exactly how to behave: slightly off-kilter, a little old-fashioned, but as delightful as they are delighted by everything they see around them.

"Willows" works because the story is timeless. Sick and tired of doing his spring cleaning, Mole (Lee Ingleby) decides to get outdoors for a while. Walking along the riverbank, he meets the laid-back Ratty (Mark Gatiss). Soon they hook up with Ratty's friend, Toad (Matt Lucas), and the three go off on an adventure that involves a good deal of danger and big rewards before they're through. Before the 90-minute film ends, we get to spend time with Bob Hoskins, Imelda Staunton and a long list of other British actors who charm their way through the story.

The production, filmed in Bucharest, Romania, is as gorgeous as can be. Production designer Jon Henson decides to go for the breezy rather than the staid, and it pays off. David Franco's beautiful camerawork gives "Willows" some wonderful color and verve. Director Rachel Talalay is a bit laid back as well in getting the characters animated, but they have enough inherent charm to them to overcome the problem. Lee Hall has adapted Grahame's story with a great deal of care, and each character seems right at home in this updated but timeless version.

By the time we follow along with Toad, Mole and Ratty, feel their pain upon discovering that Toad Hall has been overrun by stoats and weasels -- just to name one of the adventures we're in for -- we're hooked and can't wait for the conclusion. The story stays the same, but the telling is fresh and vibrant as if we were seeing it for the first time.

A Box TV production for the BBC produced in association with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., WGBH Boston and NBDtv
Teleplay: Lee Hall
Based on the novel by: Kenneth Grahame
Producers: Michael Prupas, Gub Neal
Director: Rachel Talalay
Co-producer: Charlotte Ashby
Executive producers: Justin Thomson-Glover, Patrick Irwin
Executive producer for WGBH: Rebecca Eaton
Director of photography: David Franco
Composer: Benoit Jutras
Songs composed by: David Arnold
Production designer: Jon Henson
Film editor: Annie Kocur
Costume designer: Vin Burnham
Toad: Matt Lucas
Ratty: Mark Gatiss
Mole: Lee Ingleby
Badger: Bob Hoskins
Barge Lady: Imelda Staunton
Engine Driver: Jim Carter
Gaoler's daughter: Anna Maxwell Martin