The Wolves of Willoughby Chase



Suspenseful, creepy British film is nightmare fodder.
  • Review Date: May 30, 2012
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Release Year: 1989
  • Running Time: 88 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

In the words of Bonnie Willoughby: "Friends are important." So is independence and standing up to wrongdoing.

Positive role models

Bonnie and Sylvia show tremendous wit and resourcefulness while facing trials and tribulations that would leave most kids their age in tears. Also, the girls are unafraid to speak out against evil and wrongdoing.


A character is crushed to death after falling in between the industrial rollers of a factory laundry. One person throws knives at another. Wolves chase characters throughout the film, pursuing a young girl at one point. A boy falls into a giant laundry tub and appears to be drowned. Some rifleplay. An antagonist catches on fire before being mauled to death by wolves.


Two girls spy on a couple as the man puts his hands on the woman's clothed rear end.


Rare language includes "hell" and "damn you."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Characters drink wine. One adult is shown intoxicated, sloppily tossing his empty bottles at a basket.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is filled with enough scary moments to make this for sturdy older kids only. Little girls contend with an evil governess and end up bait for wolves, knives, and are locked in a closet. One character meets a gruesome death between the rollers of a giant industrial washing machine while another is mauled by wolves and then dies in a fire.

Kids say

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What's the story?

Young Bonnie Willoughby (Emily Hudson) is excited that her cousin, the orphan Sylvia, is coming to stay in her country mansion surrounded by nothing but woods and wolves. But when the front door opens, she comes face-to-face with the evil Miss Slighcarp (Stephanie Beacham), hired by her parents to take care of Bonnie and Sylvia while the rest of the family spends time in warmer climates recovering from illness. Instead of taking care of them, Slighcarp schemes to steal the family fortune, sink the ship Lord and Lady Willoughby are sailing on, fire all the servants, and send the children to an orphan work camp. It is up to the girls to stop Slighcarp and her accomplice, the drunken Mr. Grimshaw (Mel Smith).

Is it any good?


With its pack of wolves running around the countryside trying to maul every human they see, bleak and brutal scenes of an orphan work house straight out of darkest Dickens, to say nothing of rats, intense chase scenes, and cartoonishly evil bad ladies and men, THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE has enough gothic imagery to provide younger children with plenty of material for nightmares. Which isn't to say that this is a bad movie, but it does go out of its way to exaggerate the suspense and general air of bleakness hanging over 19th century England.

Overall, the acting is very good, especially compared to most children's movies. Stephanie Beacham gives the odious Miss Slighcarp the over-the-top performance the character requires, and Mel Smith is comically bumbling as her foolish sidekick Grimshaw. Once the action gets going, the adventures and misadventures draw you in, and even as you're not exactly sure why there are so many wolves running around the lavish estate, the wolves do at least ratchet up the tension.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how books are turned into movies. What do you think some of the challenges are in turning a book into a movie? How does this movie compare with other films you've seen based on books?

  • How accurately do you think the film represents the plight of orphans in 19th century England?

  • While there is an obvious literal meaning to "wolves" in the film's title, who and what are the symbolic "wolves" in the film?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:December 15, 1989
DVD release date:January 24, 2011
Cast:Emily Hudson, Mel Smith, Stephanie Beacham
Director:Stuart Orme
Studio:Spirit Entertainment
Topics:Adventures, Wild animals
Run time:88 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

This review of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Educator Written bysleath April 29, 2013

Misunderstood classic

To say this film is a 12 rating is ridiculous. You can shelter your children all you like but they will see worse things than this delightful epic years before they are 12. After all it is rated a PG. I used to watch this at lunch time.


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