When I was younger the BBC always used to air an adaptation of popular children’s tale in the run-up to Christmas these included the great Chronicles of Narnia series as well as Five Children and It and The Magician’s House. As the BBC’s children’s output has evolved this tradition has died out however with tonight’s adaptation of David Walliams’ Mr Stink it feels like it may just have returned. While watching this warm, funny and traditional tale I was put in mind of the programmes of my youth and wondered why this one-off special couldn’t have been extended into a two or three part series.
Having not read the book I went into Mr Stink completely blind however almost instantly I was transported into Walliams’ world thanks in part to Quentin Blake’s illustrations which instantly put me in mind of his work on Roald Dahl’s books. Mr Stink isn’t a million miles away from a few of Dahl’s stories as its central protagonist is a young girl, in this case 12 year old Chloe, who is a lot smarter than most of the adults around her. Chloe is a lonely child who often loses herself in her imagination writing stories about zombies instead of doing her homework while she is often bullied by the more popular girls at school. Her home life is no better as her mother, played by Sheridan Smith, is an aspiring MP who frets over Chloe’s general demeanour while showering praise on her younger sister Annabelle who is constantly attending some sort of extra-curricular class. Chloe’s only ally is her father, here played by Johnny Vegas, a man who really cares for his daughter and wants her to find some friends of her own.
One day Chloe meets a tramp called Mr Stink, so named because of the powerful odour he emits, who is initially quite taken aback when she attempts to help him. Eventually he becomes quite fond of her and agrees to move into her shed which is quite a dangerous move seeing as one of her mother’s campaign promises is to banish all the homeless from the streets. During a news interview with her mother, Mr Stink rampages into the kitchen and reveals himself to the world instantly becoming a star. When Chloe’s mother is invited onto a Newsnight-style programme it is under the proviso that Mr Stink come too and when he tells the world that it was Chloe who took him in her mother is let go by her party. Mr Stink on the other hand is invited by the prime minister, played by Walliams himself, to run for parliament however the tramp hates the hypocrisy of politics and tells the PM where to go. However Mr Stink’s influence over Chloe’s family is altogether positive with her dad finally standing up to her mum, her sister living life as a normal child and her learning to bond more with all of her family.
I realised how much I was engrossed in Mr Stink when in the last ten minutes I started to get a little bleary-eyed as I’d really emotionally invested in the characters. Walliams obviously has written this book for children and the central heroine is just an everyday girl who lives in her own world and really doesn’t have many people to confide in. On the surface Mr Stink is about finding friendship in the most unlikely of places but Walliams also has deeper messages about how politicians use people to get their message across and our attitudes to the homeless in general. I do feel in Mr Stink there’s something for everyone as the adults will enjoy the banter between the grown-ups while the kids will enjoy looking at the visual effects as well as seeing Britain’s Got Talent winner Pudsey steal several scenes as Stink’s dog Duchess.
In terms of the casting Hugh Bonneville was a great choice to play Stink as a smelly, hairy tramp is exactly the role you wouldn’t expect to see Lord Grantham portray. Bonneville is exceptionally gruff throughout but also believable in the more emotional scenes in which he reveals to Chloe why he ended up on the streets in the first place. Sheridan Smith caps off 2012 with yet another strong showing as a formidable and ambitious politician who is more interested in furthering her career than she is in her own family. Though she and Johnny Vegas don’t really make a believable couple I think the balance works well as his down-to-Earth loveable dad perfectly complements her ghastly mother role. Obviously the show wouldn’t work without a strong leading lady and Nell Tiger Free is just that mainly because she looks like a normal 12 year old girl rather than a child actor. She is a captivating presence and you really feel for her when she is bullied by her classmates or chastised by her mother for daydreaming. Free also is able to hold her own on screen with some pretty big names but she shares great chemistry with both Bonneville and Vegas though I do still think that Pudsey is able to act them all of the screen.
If I have a criticism of Mr Stink it is that I wish it would’ve been longer as I wanted to spend more than an hour in the company of these great characters. As I previously mentioned I feel that this could’ve easily have been stretched out a little longer, providing that there was enough source material in the book, and maybe could’ve been aired over several consecutive nights. Overall though I really enjoyed Mr Stink as it was a traditional family programme which had a very modern message running throughout. I could imagine being a child and watching this with my whole family and I think this is one programme that is entirely suitable to be viewed by old and young alike as it features great writing and acting throughout. I personally just think it’s a shame that we don’t get more programmes like this over Christmas but hope that the success of Mr Stink will make the BBC think about adapting more children’s books over the festive period.
What did you think to Mr Stink? Did you enjoy it as much as I did? Leave Your Comments Below.