"If there's a key hole, there must be a key.
And I think I might just have it...
The mice of Brambly Hedge are preparing
for their traditional midwinter
celebration and everyone will soon be gathering
in the great hall of the
old Oak Palace. Primrose and Wilfred are in
the thick of things, helping
to tress the special midwinter log which
will be brought inside and lit
in celebration, but our jolly pair soon
find themselves summoned aside,
whereupon they learn that something terrible
has happened. Conker has
lost his voice. It means he can't recite the
Midwinter Poem which is central
to the festivities. Primrose and Wilfred will
have to take his place.
The Midwinter Poem was said to have been
written by the great explorer
mouse Cumulus Nimbus. He had promised
his sweetheart, Rosa, that he
would return from his travels on Midwinter
day so they might be wed. But
as the hour waned, there was still no
sight of this heroic mouse, so his
bride-to-be turned to his poem for solace.
And as she recited the last of his
words, so Cumulus arrived on the wind
to claim her.
The mice have no proof that this tale
actually happened, but Cumulus'
words warm the heart and help turn their
thoughts to the forthcoming Spring.
Wilfred and Primrose are left in no doubt
of its importance to the Brambly
Hedge inhabitants. So they're soon off
to practice their recital. But Midwinter
is not a quiet kind of day and there are constant
mother - Lady Daisy - stops baking her midwinter
biscuits long enough to
suggest they try the old attic storeroom. There's
no reason for anybody to
be going up there. Oh, but that same attic
is full of distracting things...
old toys and belongings, and a bundle of letters..
and a key which
opens a hidden door.. which leads to a
winding staircase.. And a
merry midwinter adventure in the upper
echelons of the Palace...
"The Secret Staircase" is the
fifth in the sequence of "Brambly Hedge" films
produced by the folks at HIT Entertainment.
The first four seasonal specials
were animated by Cosgrove Hall, but from
here on HIT's newly-formed
facility HOT Animation took up the
reins - though you'd be hard pressed to
see the join, because once again, Jill Barklem's
mousey stars are brought
to life quite brilliantly.
There's a twinkle about this production,
from the offing. It's there in the
frost-glittered scenery and in Robert Lindsay's
cozy narration, as
we close in on the mousey families, busying
themselves about the
titular hedge. Each mouse is exquisitely
dressed in tailored clothes
and knitted woolen scarves. They twitch
and blink and sniff about their
business, and as each speaks in turn the
voice that's matched to them
with perfection... Yes, the Brambly Hedge
films are so very special...
The decoupage Hall is magnificently tall
and the palace kitchen is brimming
with miniature pies and cakes and accouterments...
Wilfred and Primrose's
attic adventure leads them to a series
of spectacular cobewebbed rooms
that are dressed so evocatively, you half
expect to find a mousey Miss
Havisham skulking in the shadows...
Each of the Brambly Hedge films has its
own wonderful atmosphere.
"The Secret Staircase" draws
its appeal from nipping, frost-filled days,
and hearty Winter fires. The lighting
throughout is quite superb. There
are twilight mauves and dusky purples
in those exterior scenes, and
warm and cosseting hues within the Hall,
chasing away the cold.
As the festivities begin, the mice carry
little lamps that warm their
whiskers and we're led inside to the now
bedecked Hall, where we
encounter a host of mice big and small,
dressed in their finest. At one
point, this viewer counted fourteen miniature
mice on camera, nibbling
sugar-dusted pastries or supping bramble
One could go on. There is a breathless
sophistication about these films.
They recreate a place and period as perfectly
as a BBC costume drama.
In it's own mousey way, it's like watching
a miniature "Cranford"...
"The Secret Staircase"
premiered on BBC1, on 26th December 1998...
Hedge: Winter Story
Hedge: Spring Story
Hedge: The High Hills
Hedge: Sea Story
Hedge: Poppy's Babies
Hedge books at Amazon.co.uk
Hedge on DVD
"The Secret Staircase"
is included in this four film compilation:
Hedge: The Classic Collection
2 / "The Secret Staircase", "The High Hills",
/ HIT Entertainment
/ January 2004
Then there are these two releases:
Hedge: Spring Story
2 / HIT Entertainment
/ April 2007
compilation DVD includes "Winter Story"
2 / HIT Entertainment / December 2005
a HOT Animation production for
HIT Entertainment PLC
in association with the BBC
based on the books by Jill Barklem
Plummer-Andrews (for the BBC)
Fawkes, Peter Orton (for HIT)
Laban, Jud Walton,
Monica McCartney, Mike Cottee
Hayns, Bethan Jones,
Lloyd, Darren Marshall,
Michelle Scattergood, Bridget Smith,
Sutcliffe, Mark Thompson,
Corrigan, Karen Betty,
Fletcher, Lucy Beckett
Richard Sykes, Jeff
Reekie, Macushla Carney
Shane Warden, Trevor Brown