When I first dreamt up the idea that became The Last Bookshop, I imagined the bookshop being explored by a boy dressed in a timeless school uniform, with a mop of hair, looking a bit like Just William. While our Boy isn’t the scruffy troublemaker that William is, it nevertheless helped to cite the classic books when describing the film’s premise to people.
The 1994 TV adaptations I remember seeing as a child depicted William and his gang as 1920s miscreants; very faithfully to the earliest books. However, as we started work on The Last Bookshop – citing William to people as we did so – up popped a new BBC version of Just William, this time set in the 1950s. The original stories having been published over the course of nearly fifty years, they can be set in various periods – depending on whether a production team wants to adapt such blatant giveaways as William and the Evacuees.
The Last Bookshop is set in the future, but I didn’t want to visually anchor it to any particular period. After all, the importance of books is not a modern phenomenon. And the world we find between the pages of books can be any time. Therefore, when we see our Boy exploring streets and brick alleyways – and later, bookshelves – it should look like almost any decade of the last century. And when we see the hologram, it should hint at the future only as much as Hall’s Bookshop and Cecil Court evoke the 1890s from which they originate.
Richmal Crompton’s William stories not only perfectly embody this idea of books spanning the ages, but they are also seemingly the one thing that a second hand bookshop cannot be without. During the making of The Last Bookshop, wherever we filmed, William books were sure to be nearby. And so I made sure to sneak one of the books into the film, while the narration acknowledged Crompton.
The book glimpsed in The Last Bookshop is William The Showman, published in 1937.