When the BBC announced an ambitious season of classic 20th-century literature, it was no great surprise that a remake of Laurie Lee’s much-loved book - filled with memories of his childhood - made the cut.
Set immediately after the Great War in the idyllic Cotswold village of Slad, Cider With Rosie marks the journey of young Lol (Lee) who, in his transition from boy to man, discovers what it’s like to love and grieve for the first time, in the midst of much family turmoil.
An instant bestseller upon its original publication in 1959, it’s an enchanting and moving tale of growing up, that has more than stood the test of time.
Last adapted in 1971, this landmark reform is the handiwork of writer Ben Vanstone (Merlin, The Borrowers, EastEnders) and director Philippa Lowthorpe (Call the Midwife, Five Daughters).
Lowthorpe, who chose to re-read the book instead of watch previous adaptations, recalls the soft spot she had for the “evocative, coming-of-age story” as a teenager.
While many directors would have taken on stage-school kids to fill the younger roles, Lowthorpe had other ideas. When casting, she scoured local Gloucestershire schools for students who had little-to-no previous acting experience or ambition, before inviting candidates to nearby workshops. Her reasoning? She prefers working with “non-professional children”.
It was during this process that she discovered four newcomers taking on Lol and Rosie at different ages.
The newbies are in good company. There’s Emma Curtis, June Whitfield, Annette Crosbie, Billy Howle, and Timothy Spall (as the voice of Laurie Lee). And also Jessica Hynes, who takes the role of strict teacher, Miss Crabby.
Samantha Morton stars as Annie, Lee’s mother. She’d been in line for a role since announcing Cider With Rosie is her all-time favourite book.
Adding to the nostalgia is the fact the show was filmed around the corner from Lee’s house on the edge of Slad Valley.
Cider With Rosie is on BBC One on Sunday