I too watch the Box of Delights every year just before Christmas on video (yes the tape is wearing out) so I was delighted when the BBC released this production on DVD! The Box of Delights was first televised on BBC TV in 1984. At the time this production was considered outstanding due to the use of new special effects using chroma key and inventive animation techniques. Chroma key was a relatively new technique in the early 1980's so it was an exciting experience to see this magic appear on our screens in a remarkable production. Today the use of CGI makes these effects look somewhat old fashioned, but I feel that they still look impressive (especially the scene where Cole Hawlings uses the power of the box to magically open a picture at Seekings to evade Abner Brown's Agents).
The Box of Delights is based on John Masefield's classic children's book and is set in the 1920's / 30's period. Kay Harker has left boarding school and is coming home for the Christmas holidays by steam train. On the journey he meets two clergymen called "Foxy Faced Charles" and "Chubby Faced Joe" who are two agents working for the villain ringleader "Abner Brown". They challenge Kay to a game of card tricks and it is here that you discover that the two "clergymen" are not all that they seem.
At the next station, the conversation between Kay and the clergymen is interruped by the barking of the dog belonging to the travelling Punch and Judy man called "Cole Hawlings". Kay discovers that he has lost his railway ticket and it is here that the fantastic adventure begins when he meets the mysterious philosopher who harkens from the Middle Ages.
Kay now embarks on a series of adventures when he returns home to his house "Seekings" to stay with his guardian "Caroline Louisa". Gradually the plot thickens as Kay comes into the possession of the Box of Delights. The box is an ancient magical device that contains many wondrous properties including the power to send the user back in time. It also has the ability to reduce the owner to the size of a Tom Thumb and allow you to fly. However the box does have certain limits to its powers in that once you step into the past you must find your own way back! Also, the time line on which you can travel is limited only to the history of Europe.
Kay learns that Cole Hawklings is on a desperate mission to prevent the Box from falling into the hands of evil Abner Brown who is conspiring to use the power of the magical artefact for his own selfish purposes. Kay is drawn into the plot when Cole Hawlings entrusts the box to his safe keeping in an effort to foil the plans of Abner Brown. It follows that Cole Hawlings is abducted by Abner's men and it is now Kay's job to keep the box from falling into the hands of the enemy. Thus Kay embarks on a perilous quest in which he must outwit Abner Brown and return the box to its rightful owner.
The actual BBC dramatisation is brilliantly put together retaining the magnificence of John Masefield's classical book. The story is adhered too very well and brings to life the exciting adventures on which Kay embarks. A wonderful cast of actors which includes Patrick Troughton (former Doctor Who, incarnation number two) who plays Cole Hawlings and Robert Stephens who plays the role of Abner Brown to villainous perfection.
Now to the actual DVD. The presentation is well thought out and shows that the team who designed the DVD understand the Box of Delights thoroughly. Anyone who has owned the video version will not be disappointed. The primary menu allows you to play either the whole drama or you may select individual episodes. Once through to the episode selection you are presented with six circles showing the opening sequences for each. This is brilliantly designed with a flickering old-film effect, which is accompanied by a crescendo of "Joy to the World".
Unlike the video version, when an episode is selected you are shown the entire episode as it was screened when it was originally transmitted in 1984. This means you get to see the episodes as they were meant to be enjoyed with the opening title music and the cliff-hanger with credits. Before the following episode begins you see the cliff-hanger from the previous episode and thus you enjoy the tension and excitement far more.
The DVD also contains an interview with Devin Stanfield who played Kay. This is very interesting as you learn some inside information about the creation of the dramatisation, including the casting and location filming. You also find out what happened to Devin's career after "Box". In addition to this, there is a section with archive clips from Blue Peter and Take Two and a quiz which tests your knowledge of the Box of Delights.
Finally, I would thoroughly recommend the Box of Delights DVD to anyone who has previously bought the video or those who have never seen this production. This is an ideal gift to any child (or adult) for Christmas and will provide a wonderful Yuletide atmosphere to anyone's house. It also shows today's children how children in the past celebrated Christmas with old traditions, games, music, and food (note the "Posset" and "buttered eggs").
In addition to the DVD I can also recommend the BBC Radio 4 dramatisation of the Box of Delights which is also great listening (also available from AMAZON) and the book itself which is great reading.
So to sum up, I give the Box of Delights DVD five stars (although it deserves 10). Buy it - this is a classical gem that surpasses anything else to date. You won't be disappointed, because like me you'll want to watch it every Christmas, year after year and never get tired of it!