Interest Groups Online Noticeboard

Here’s a must read for fans of the author Laurie Lee...

Revisiting Cider with Rosie - the long read - from Roger a member of the Read Write and Discuss group.

cider being poured with dark background
Cider poured the way it’s done in Asturias, Northern Spain

I cannot remember when I first read Cider with Rosie but it was probably after watching a TV dramatisation, most likely the 1971version with Rosemary Leach but my favourite version was from 2015 with the wonderful Timothy Spall narrating and sounding more like Laurie Lee than Lee himself.

I am interested in the way a story can be re-told through a range of different media. With that idea in mind, I am planning to take a personal look at Rosie over three weeks or so and record my findings in something more like a diary than a conventional review, posting to Padlet along the way. For Rosie I have access to the printed book, to an audio recording, to a kindle version, and to three films. There have also been a number of dramatised versions for radio and stage. I shall be dipping in and out of some of these and thinking about how they change the meanings of the work and the experience for the audience.


One of the pleasures of reading fiction or in this case biography is coming across moments where the writer’s world comes into close contact with that of the reader. Such a point of resonance can come from a memory, a character, a line of dialogue, a place or any small item of trivia. With that idea in mind I am planning to take a personal look at Cider with Rosie over three weeks or so and record my findings in something more like a journal than a conventional review.

To begin with some time scales.  Laurie Lee died as recently as 1997 and so his lifetime overlapped with mine for almost fifty years. His birth in 1914 though puts the years that he writes about as 1920 and into the early ‘30s. So that pre-dates my childhood by quite a bit. But our early years were both times of world wars and our experience of them seems to have been in some ways quite similar.  Living well away from any large conurbation we neither of us saw much of either war at first hand. For us the war was someting remote, happening far away to people that we did not know. The end of Lee’s war was announced when sister Dorothy returned from shopping. “They told me at the store, they were giving away prunes”.

All for Laurie Lee (written for his 80th birthday)

I love the way he uses words 
Will they work the same for me? 
Sorry’ said the words, 
‘We only do it for Laurie Lee’ 
But words are common property 
They’re available and free 
Said the words: ‘We’re very choosy 
And we’ve chosen Laurie Lee’ 
I want to write like he does 
But the words did all agree:
‘Sorry son we’re spoken for, 
We belong to Laurie Lee!’

McGough, Roger. Collected Poems 

After some days of timeout to work on a homework for another group ….

Cider With Rosie continued …

Cider with Rosie was published in 1959 and so we are being told the story of a young child living in remote and rural Gloucestershire as recalled by a forty-five-year-old man living in London. Lee’s memory is remarkable but the level of detail in describing the world of a three-year-old suggest that some of the reminiscences might involve some degree of invention and he does acknowledge from the outset that “some of the facts may be distorted by time”. 

I would describe Lee’s early years and mine as very different but then not totally different either. Lee’s tiny rural village was not like my larger seaside version but what we did share was a childhood of mainly outdoor freedom which is now long gone.  We were free to escape with friends from the world of adults and to explore woods and streams or beaches. I will never forget standing motionless in a shallow muddy pond in my wellies for minutes on end until I was surrounded by croaking frogs. We were able to put names to birds, flowers and trees and to pick blackberries. 

an old cider press.
Old cider press picture near Laurie Lee’s home

I remember milk being measured out from the milk-man’s churn directly into our milk jug while his towering horse Prince stood by.  And there were characters too like the bulbous nosed Herbert who brought us mushrooms and the occasional rabbit. Playing football in the park until it was too dark to see the ball and it was time to go home to tea. Saturday morning pictures at the Supreme our only screen time. Sadly though, I did miss out on the under-the-hay-wagon experience with Rosie, or Daisy, or any other of their kind. 

I think that time moved slower then, changes came about very gradually until the speeding up that was the sixties.

Meanwhile I have made a start on this little journey with a binge listening to the whole story on Audible. Audio books can be a mixed experience depending on who is doing the reading. Having Laurie Lee himself narrating makes for a very special resonance and carries with it much of the poetry in both his words and voice. We are also getting the full word-for- word version that is the book.  Lee also recorded the following two books in the trilogy.

I am also working my way through three TV film versions of the story and I shall be looking at some of the different ways the original is adapted for visual media.

Cider with Rosie concluded: -

So sorry to have gone way over the top with this. I really don't expect anyone to read it all.

The three TV films versions of Cider with Rosie are:

1971 With Rosemary Leach and directed by Claude Whatham 

1998 With Juliet Stevenson directed by Charles Beeson and co-written by John Mortimer

2015 With Samantha Moreton directed by Philippa Lowthorpe with voice-over by Timothy Spall.

 I shall refer to these as film 1, film 2 and film 3.

The Kindle and Audible versions seem to be identical word for word with the original book. When it comes to the film versions of course things are very different. Over seven hours of audio compressed into ninety minutes or so of cinema of course means some drastic cuts. Some of the largest cuts are of Lee’s extensive and poetic descriptions of the house, of nature and of people all of these are replaced by set design (mise-en-scene) and cinematography. Other cuts may be to the narrative events themselves and I shall pick a few elements of the narrative that have been treated differently.

Film 1 includes no narration and surprisingly limited dialogue telling a highly visual story. Some scenes where there is most action are shot in an almost cinema verite style with handheld cameras, rapid cutting and in and out of focus movement. Often night-time scenes are given a film noir look of bright highlights and deep shadows.

Film 2 is narrated throughout by the real Laurie Lee and includes part of the story that only he as a grown man could know.

Film 3 has a very different narrative structure switching frequently between three different time frames as we see Laurie as a young child, pre-teen and later teen.

In looking at adaptations of the narrative itself I have chosen to examine the treatment of the visiting soldier-deserter, Laurie’s closest sister Frances, and his missing father.

The Deserter’s story

The deserter-soldier appears in the first chapter of the book. He arrives in the kitchen and is given porridge by Annie, Laurie’s mother. He tells of his experiences in the war and shows his medals. Very soon after the girls report that he has been captured by the police and taken away. HIs whole story is told in little over two pages

In film 1 sister Marjorie announces excitedly “there’s a man downstairs”.  As he is given breakfast and describes the war, he sees the father’s photographs is told that he is in the pay corps in London. The boys are fascinated by his story but the girls are more cautious.

In the very opening scenes of film 2 the young Laurie wanders into the wood and comes face to face with the deserter before running away. When he arrives later and is given breakfast he tells of the bravery that earned him his most prized medal.  Twenty minutes into the film Laurie playing soldiers in the wood witnesses the deserter being captured by the militiary police and taken away.

Film 3 builds significantly on the deserter story, inventing far beyond the original. We first meet him when he arrives ‘again’ for breakfast. As he leaves Sister Marjorie says he could stay longer and Laurie picks up on an exchange of looks between them and asks, ‘Why are you staring?’  A few scenes later Laurie playing soldiers in the woods is grabbed by the deserter as soldiers are seen searching for him. They go together his hideout, and he introduces himself as James Harris private first class, Soon Marjorie arrives with food and clothing. Laurie watches as they hold hands before leaving.

Halfway through the film Laurie again playing soldiers finds Marjorie and James together as he gives her his mother’s necklace ‘to remember me by’ and they kiss before discovering Laurie. As he and Marjorie walk home, she explains to him about kissing and love.

An hour into the film military police with dogs question the young Laurie about the deserter. He denies having seen him. Back at home Laurie asks, ‘what is a deserter?’ and tells of his questioning. Marjorie rushes off to find James and he is safe.

Towards the end of the film during night-time peace celebrations, Marjorie and the young Laurie together look on as James is captured and taken away in a police van.

Sister Frances 

In the book we learn little about Laurie’s closest sister Frances. In an entire chapter devoted to a series of Laurie’s sicknesses we learn from the adult and first-person voice-over: ‘It was soon after this that my sister Frances died. She was a beautiful, fragile, dark-curled child, and my mother’s only daughter. Though only four, she used to watch me like a nurse, sitting all day beside my cot and talking softly in a special language. Nobody noticed that she was dying herself, they were too much concerned with me.’

In Film 1 we neither see or hear Frances and her name is not even mentioned. The only reference to her is in a close conversation between a pre-teen Laurie and Mother Annie. As he recovers from his illness, she says to him: ‘I never thought you’d live. I thought you would die like your poor little sister. Poor little dark-haired girl.’

Film 2 includes no references at all to Frances.

Film 3 gives a clearer portrait of Frances. The voiceover includes ‘We was full of mischief and thick as thieves’. We watch shots of an idyllic childhood of daisy chains, hiding from Granny Trill and running through endless meadows. ‘We had a feeling Summer would never end…that nothing could ever touch us’.

Soon after, as Laurie lies seriously ill and close to death we see him watched over and cared for by his older stepsisters and with close-ups of the beautiful Frances. When he eventually begins to recover, he asks his mother ‘Where’s Frances?’  Her reply is both matter of fact and devastating. ‘We buried her yesterday’.

Laurie’s Father’s story

In a chapter dedicated to his mother Lee records her eccentric mercurial character, family history and her marriage. After being in service in some great houses she replies to an advert for a housekeeper for a widower with four children. She gets the job and in time she and Mr Lee fall in love and are married and she adopts his three daughters and a son. She then has three children of her own including Laurie before the marriage falls apart and she and all the children move into the cottage in Slad. 

Very little of this history is known to the young Laurie who has only the vaguest memory of his father. Letters arrive occasionally but their content is not revealed and his portrait appears in many shots in all three films.

In film 1 Laurie creeps downstairs at night and watches his mother playing her piano. As she plays we see a thirty second montage of father’s pictures on the piano, a close-up clip of him, the situations vacant advert, Mr Lee and family opening her application, his family group, wedding photo then him playing piano.

When peace breaks out in film 2 Annie rushes off to London to visit her husband in a sequence which only the audience sees. She is met by a woman who surprised to see ‘Mrs Lee?’ In a painful conversation her husband tells her of his ambition for a civil service career and a life in London that would not fit her ‘country-girl’ life style and that he will not be coming back.

In Film 3 the young teen Laurie and mother are on a bicycle ride. They stop to rest and he asks her ‘How’d you meet Dad?’  She explains about the job as housekeeper and how well she got on with the sisters, got married and had Frances, Jack and Laurie himself. She says she does love him but says nothing about the breakup.

small pub on a road
Picture of the Woolpack Pub Laurie Lee used to frequent

Back to Interest Groups Online Noticeboard

Your cookie settings
We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. These cookies allow the website to function, collect useful anonymised information about visitors and help to make your user experience better. You can choose which cookies to accept. Declining the use of cookies, may affect your experience of our website.
Accept all
Decline all
Read more
Google Analytics uses performance cookies to track user activity on our website. This information is anonymous and helps us to improve the website.
Google Analytics
Google YouTube
To view YouTube videos