This story of a boy and his dog comes home to its roots in Yorkshire with a beautifully sensitive and traditional rendering. Using the original 1938 short story as its source, writer & director Charles Sturridge – best known for his superb work on Brideshead Revisited – proves that he knows how to tell a story the old fashioned, family way.
Joe is the son of a poor mining family and “Lass” his soulful and intelligent border collie. When hard times strike the district, Joe’s father is forced to sell the dog to the Duke of Rudling – the local landowner – but Lassie keeps returning to Joe despite the best efforts of the Duke’s nasty dog handler. When the Duke moves to Scotland, Lassie is separated from Joe by five hundred miles of English and Scottish countryside and must achieve the impossible if she is get home one last time.
The sense of time and place created for the film is just as it should be: green rolling hills, foggy woods, and stone-walled lanes peopled with an eccentric collection of England’s pre-war good, bad and ugly, who either help or hinder with the epic journey. The story looses its way a little in the middle as Lassie climbs every mountain and follows every stream, but it’s never dull thanks to a series of delightful scenes with actors such as Edward Fox and Robert Hardy.
The film is beautifully shot, and the cast is as strong as the direction. Peter O’Toole plays the cantankerous old Duke with wonderful vinegary grace and Samantha Morton and John Lynch are in fine form as Joe’s long suffering parents. The bad guys are all buffoons and bullies, and are guaranteed their just deserts in the true tradition of the family film.