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Series / The Borrowers

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A six-part 1992 BBC miniseries based on Mary Norton's children's book series, The Borrowers, about a race of tiny people known as "Borrowers", who live in the human world and survive by "borrowing" food and everyday items from humans, but try to keep their existence a secret. It starred Ian Holm as Pod Clock, Penelope Wilton as his wife Homily and Rebecca Callard as their spirited daughter Arrietty. It was followed in 1993 by another miniseries, The Return of the Borrowers.

The Borrowers came 79th on a 2000 list of the 100 greatest British television shows of all time.

Tropes in this series include:

  • Accidental Downer Ending: This series, and The Return of the Borrowers were based on the first four books in the series. Continuity announcements at the end of the series hinted at a new series the following year, but this was never made. The series had the Bittersweet Ending of the family sailing down the river in their boat, not knowing where they will live next.
  • Aesop Amnesia: Arrietty never seems to learn that revealing herself to a human will inevitably lead to trouble for her family.
    Arrietty: (tearfully) I don't think humans are as bad as you make them out to be.
    Pod: (fiercely) They're good and they're bad, you just don't know, and you can never trust them. Look, I'm telling you my girl, from now on, you steer clear of them. Not just this one, ALL OF THEM!
  • Brats with Slingshots: A gang of boys start firing a slingshot at figures in the model village, decapitating the policeman. One of them takes aim at Pod, who is standing dead still, pretending to be one of the figures.
  • Cassandra Truth: Naturally enough, whenever any human spots a Borrower, no other human believes them. Mrs Driver is assumed to be mad.
    Crampfurl: She reckons that they've got clothes on, like little people.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Arrietty's ability to read comes in handy at the end of the second series.
  • Cliffhanger: Every episode of the miniseries ended with one of these. Sometimes, it was impossible to see any way out: in one episode, Homily is lying in the road, and Mild-Eye's horse caravan are in danger of running her over her: the episode ends when it is inches away from her. At the beginning of the following episode, Spiller is passing and drags her away, long before the caravan reaches her.
  • Closet Punishment: Mrs Driver locks George in the nursery on several occasions.
    Mrs Driver: Do you want to be locked up in your room again? Then be off with you.
  • Contrived Coincidence: In the Platters' attic, Arrietty just happens to find some instructions for building a hot air balloon, and all the materials with which to build it.
  • Crapsack World: The human world is a dangerous place for Borrowers.
  • Deadly Prank: All of Ditchley's pranks nearly have deadly consequences.
  • Deus ex Machina: This intervenes quite often to save the Borrowers, and often at the very beginning of an episode, when the previous episode ended on a cliffhanger.
    • Homily lies down in the path of Mildeye's horse and caravan; and the episode ends when the wheels are inches away from her. At the start of the next episode, Spiller appears, and drags her out of the way before the caravan reaches her.
    • At one point Mildeye appears to have them cornered, when he gets interrupted by a policeman.
    • When Brats with Slingshots are about to decapitate Pod, George intervenes.
    • Averted the final time the Clocks are captured. No one is coming to their rescue and they have to build their own hot air balloon.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Ditchley and Ilrick pull the out bath plug, releasing all the water onto the Clocks and Spiller, who are leaving the house via the pipes. But, as Pod later points out, that was the last supply of water in the house (the water has been turned off as the house is now unoccupied by humans), so thanks to Ditchley's prank, the Harpsichords now have no water.
  • Don't Look Down: Pod tells Homily not to look down, when crossing an improvised bridge over a fast-flowing river.
  • Earn Your Title: Borrowers are known as such because they "borrow" everyday items from humans.
  • Freak Show: The Platters plan to display the Clocks in a glass house.
  • Gilligan Cut: The Borrowers' way is barred by a fast-flowing river. Pod spots a very flimsy-looking bridge; Homily furiously objects to the idea of crossing it, saying "you won't get me on to that thing, and that's a fact". The next moment, they are all carefully picking their way across the bridge.
  • Good Parents: Pod and Homily, to Arrietty. Pod encourages Arrietty's independence by teaching her to borrow; but in a very intense scene, scolds Arrietty severely for fraternising with humans, perhaps influenced by his own fear. Arrietty cries, but is unrelenting.
  • Improvised Weapon: Pod's weapon of choice is half of a pair of nail scissors, referred to as "the half-scissor". Spiller also has a bow and arrows, which he explains are pine needles, tipped with thorns.
  • Insistent Terminology: Borrowers do not steal, they borrow.
  • Jerkass: Mrs Driver, Ditchley and Ilrick, Mildeye.
  • Karma Houdini: Ditchley and Ilrick escape any serious consequences for their antics. They do get a The Reason You Suck speech from Pod, who informs them that as a result of them pulling out the bath plug, there is now no more water in the house and the Harpsichords will therefore have to leave.
  • Leit Motif: There is staccato music whenever the Borrowers are creeping around "borrowing". Spiller has his own theme, and there is dramatic music when a tall piece of furniture towers over the Borrowers.
  • Lilliputians: The Borrowers.
  • Meaningful Name: Many Borrowers are named for where they live, such as Clock, Overmantel or Harpsichord.
  • Meat Versus Veggies: Arrietty is horrified when Spiller kills a mouse with a makeshift bow and arrow. She is also a little too gleeful when Spiller later throws the meat away to keep a passing dog off their scent, just before they are about to eat it.
    Arrietty: You've killed it!!!
    Spiller: I meant to.
    Arrietty (with pure venom): I think you're horrible.
  • Mouse World: The Borrowers essentially live in the same world as mice; humans sometimes assume they are mice or rats.
    Mild-Eye: (pulling a tiny borrower-made ladder out of a hole) Bloomin' clever rats!
  • Named by the Adaptation: George, the human boy who befriends the Clock family, is never named in the original books.
  • Never Learned to Read: Pod, who apparently had to start borrowing at a young age and therefore never had time to learn. Averted by Arrietty, who has taught herself to read.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: George's well-meaning efforts to help the Clocks lead to them being discovered (and almost killed) by Mrs Driver.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Mrs Driver and the Platters capture the Clocks, but then the Platters go and keep them in an open box, in an attic full of hiding places and ideal Scavenged Punk materials, allowing them to escape.
  • Nobody Here but Us Statues: When the Borrowers are living in a model village, they sometimes hide by standing dead still among the model inhabitants. Miss Menzies realises Arrietty is real because she made and painted the models herself.
  • Noodle Incident: The incident involving Eggletina being seen. It is implied that she died, but Pod and Homily are reluctant to give more details.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: The Clocks do not move or speak in Sidney and Mabel's presence. Sidney and Mabel assume they are stupid, and just leave them in an open cardboard box in their attic.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws:
    • The Harpsichords to the Clocks.
    • Also Mrs Driver for George.
  • Paper Key-Retrieval Trick: No paper was needed when Arrietty told George to push the key out of the lock, after he had been locked in the nursery by Mrs Driver. Arrietty then pushes the key under the door to him.
    George: Mind your head.
  • Posthumous Character. Arrietty's cousin Eggletina. It is revealed in Return of the Borrowers that Eggletina is actually very much alive.
  • Running Gag:
    • Arrietty regularly parrots trivia she has read in books, usually in an earnest voice.
      (Just after Pod, Homily and Arrietty have been terrified by a snake)
      Arrietty: Oh well, it wouldn't attack us.
      Pod: You read that in one of your books, I suppose?
      Arrietty: Yes, of course.
      Pod: Those books were written for human beans, not Borrowers.
    • Several times, a human "bean" reacts in surprise while the Borrowers are lurking; then it turns out they saw something else.
      (While Arrietty is lurking behind a flowerpot, in the presence of an elderly short-sighted lady)
      Lady: Hilda, look!!!!! (Beat) That plant's dying of thirst. (She waters it, drenching Arrietty)
  • Scavenged Punk: Inevitably, as pretty much everything the Borrowers possess has been scavenged (or borrowed) from humans.
  • Shout-Out: Arrietty and George read from Gulliver's Travels, noting the similarity in size between Lilliputians and Borrowers.
    Arrietty (reading): I saw a tiny man, less than six inches high, with a bow and arrow in his hand, and a quiver on his back.
    George: Do you think he was a Borrower?
  • Sneakers of Sneaking: Pod tells Arrietty to wear light shoes for borrowing, presumably to avoid detection.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Mrs Driver has this when she sees the Borrowers, but understandably no humans believe her.