Filmed at Pinewood Studios in England and on location in Warwickshire, Buckinghamshire and Shropshire, this live-action Disney film opens in Los Angeles where 14-year-old juvenile delinquent Casey Brown (Jodie Foster) is seen hanging out with a gang of toughs who steal fruit from neighbourhood vendors.
Casey, a hardboiled orphan, is bribed by a con man called Harry Bundage (Leo McKern) to join him in his scheme to recover a fortune in gold doubloons that were hidden by pirate Joshua St. Edmund centuries ago in a mansion on a country estate called ‘Candleshoe’ in England.
Bundage needs someone to imitate Lady Margaret – the long-lost heiress to the estate – so they can search for the coins. After some coaching by Bundage’s cousin, Clara (Vivian Pickles) who once worked at the house, Casey agrees to go to England having negotiated a cut of the deal – 10% of the profits and a new red Ferrari.
Before Casey is allowed to move into the Elizabethan estate, she has to convince Lady Gwendolyn St. Edmund (Helen Hayes in her final film role) – a kindly old woman who has taken in four local orphans to care for – that she might be her missing granddaughter.
Meanwhile, faithful butler, Priory (David Niven) doesn’t have the heart to tell her Ladyship that Candleshoe is broke and mortgaged to the hilt and that the staff have all left. He maintains the deception of wealth by frantically masquerading as John Henry the garrulous chauffeur, Mr Gipping the drunken Scottish gardener, and retired army man, Colonel Dennis, who calls for tea once a month to keep the lady of the manor company.
There are the mandatory Disney slapstick fights where nobody gets hurt and the weapons are impotently brandished broadswords and pikes plucked from the mansion walls, and visually, the film is a treat with gorgeous shots of the English countryside. Being a Disney film, there’s also a bonafide happy ending, of course.
Lady Gwendolyn St. Edmund