Just William - Series 1 - Complete 
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(Jun 22, 2009)
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All 13 episodes from the first season of the 1970s ITV series based on the stories by Richmal Crompton. Set in the 1930s, the series tells the story of naughty schoolboy William and his gang known as The Outlaws, who are plagued by the attentions of insufferable spoiled brat Elizabeth Violet Rose Bott (Bonnie Langford). Episodes are: 'William and the Begging Letter', 'William: The Great Actor', 'The Outlaws and the Tramp', 'The Sweetest Little Girl in White', 'William and the Badminton Racket', 'A Little Interlude', 'William and the Prize Pig', 'William and the Wonderful Present', 'William the Matchmaker', 'Waste Paper Wanted', 'Only Just in Time', 'William and the Sleeping Major' and 'William Clears the Slums'.
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The acting is good, Bonnie Langford is wonderful as Violet Elizabeth, but some of the actors lack 'punch'. I do particularly like the animated introduction, I believe it would work brilliantly if the artist were to make a series of William.
William on screen had always been a dicey business, the Crompton books often contain pretty detailed word pictures of how the characters and their world look. Thus, screen adaptations always run the risk of not measuring up to the mental picture. But William's antics were very filmic and this series hit the nail on the head for the vast majority of Outlaws and casual William fans.
Rather like Bertie Wooster, you need to be sold on William and his world to appreciate him. A literal mind watching or reading William (or Wooster) would soon pick holes in the plots and wonder why William hadn't been locked away years ago! So, if you're new to William or you're not willing to suspend your disbelief to some degree then, well, frankly you should not be here. Okay, now that we are all kids together, let's take a closer look at this extra special treat.
It started with some inspired casting, Adrian Dannatt fits the role of William like a glove, and given his tender years he totally inhabits the character. Bonnie Langford is Violet Elizabeth to a tee. Dianna Fairfax wonderfully wears her permanent air of perplexed worry as William's beleaguered mother. Michael McVey as Ginger does a great job in backing up William in his various lunacies. Add some terrific supports from guest stars such as Freddie Jones and of course Dianna Dors during her second flowering as a character actress, and you have an absolute treat.
But the casting was only the start, many other aspects shine. Most of the scripts (adapted by Keith Dewhurst) are really good televisual adaptations of the original books, but there's obviously a love of the books at work which respects the original tremendously. The direction (John Davies produced and directed the series) is consistent and keeps everything moving along nicely. Then other aspects of the production help bring it together so well. For example many of the sets are wonderful: Apparently some of these were shared with the Anthony Valentine series "Raffles" which was in production at the same time. No doubt this allowed them to share costs and allowed William more on-screen world to inhabit. We get to see the "Old Barn" and the Bott's house, and quite a lot of the interior of the Brown's house during the series.
The acting is good throughout, child actors can sometimes be very variable during a series, but here they actually do really well. Adrian Dannatt is suitably manic, petulant, crushed and triumphant by turns - and he often seems to be really enjoying himself. Bonnie Langford was born to play Violet Elizabeth Bott, William's very girlie nemesis. Always foiling his plans and threatening her famous Scweam if she is left out of whatever is going on. Special mention should go to Simon Chandler as William's Petulant older brother (he says to William in the 2nd series "I'll give any money that we all live to see you hanged").
The studio sequences were all shot on video tape, whereas the exterior sequences (of which there are quite a few) were all shot on film. This was standard practice at the time, but gives the two elements of the production different visual qualities that sometimes jar a bit nowadays and of course the film segments are not as sharp as the studio ones. The overall quality of the video is just a little hazy sometimes, but never enough to spoil the programme. The DVD contains all 13 episodes from Series one. There's also a picture gallery of production and promo stills, but that's all there is for extras.
So full marks to all involved, great fun for the younger cast members, and, I strongly suspect, a labour of love for many of those behind the cameras, especially John Davies (dir/prod) and Stella Richman (Exec producer), who just must have been hooked on the original books.
The 2nd series on DVD is out in October 2009. I'm off to place my pre-order for that!