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Johnny And The Bomb (2006)
Director: Dermot Boyd

review by Jonathan McCalmont

Johnny And The Bomb is based upon the third and final book in Terry Pratchett's underrated 'Johnny Maxwell' trilogy, and it is also the third attempt at adapting the books for another medium following swiftly forgotten adaptations of Johnny And The Dead for ITV in 1995, and Only You Can Save Mankind for BBC Radio 4 in 1996. In fact, it's actually quite difficult to think of a single adaptation of Pratchett's work that has, as Terry puts it himself, "captured the soul" of one of his works. However, that was until this little gem was made.

Returning from the cinema one evening with his friends, Johnny Maxwell discovers the injured body of Mrs Tachyon, an eccentric local homeless woman. Fearing for her safety, Johnny calls for an ambulance and takes her trolley home with him in order to keep an eye on it. Bizarrely though, Mrs Tachyon appears to be no ordinary homeless person as Johnny soon discovers that her shopping trolley is actually a time machine. However, after a disastrous foray into 1941, Johnny returns home to find that he has edited himself out of history by indirectly contributing to the death of his own grandmother forcing him to set things right with the help of his gang and a mysterious billionaire.

Simply put, Johnny And The Bomb is a triumph and by far and away the best piece of children's TV that I have seen for a long time. Aside from the skilled direction that keeps the plot ticking over at a brisk pace and some beautifully devised set-pieces such as the visually stunning German bombing raid, the sheer quality of Pratchett's writing shines through in a manner that none of the previous adaptations of his work have even come close to. Each character in the series is beautifully rounded and genuinely engaging from Zoe Wanamaker's stunning Mrs Tachyon (who isn't in this nearly as much as she should be) to George MacKay's reluctant hero Johnny, and Frank Finlay's wonderfully knowing Tom Maxwell. Aside from a cast-iron structure and the lovely characterisation, the series also boasts some wonderfully sly dialogue such as Yo-Less' horror at being called a 'Sambo' and Kirsty's desperate attempts to get him to focus on the problem at hand by telling him that racism didn't exist in "the olden days" because everyone talked like that.

In fact, the only question marks that hand over Johnny And The Bomb is Jazmine Franks who delivers a rather one-note Kirsty who seriously struggles with some of the more comic lines. However, this is the only cloud in an otherwise blue sky and if there were ever any doubt as to the quality of this series you would need to look no further than the interview with Pratchett included on the DVD where Terry practically bursts into tears from his sheer joy at the success of the adaptation.

Thoroughly wonderful from beginning to end, Johnny And The Bomb is a must not only for Pratchett fans but also for fans of sci-fi in general. Absolutely superb!
Johnny and the Bomb

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