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Author would have approved of Japanese re-make of mysterious story set at Burnham Overy Staithe in north Norfolk

When Marnie Was There - the mysterious girl at the window.

When Marnie Was There - the mysterious girl at the window.

Archant

A mysterious house looms out of the mists that shroud the harbour.

There’s a little girl at the window, brushing her long blonde hair. Who is she? What secrets does she know?

Deborah Sheppard outside the house at Burnham Overy Staithe which inspired her mother's story Marnie. Picture: Chris BishopDeborah Sheppard outside the house at Burnham Overy Staithe which inspired her mother's story Marnie. Picture: Chris Bishop

A haunting tale from the salt marsh has been re-located to Japan for an animated adaptation. When Marnie Was There, now being screened in Norwich, was originally set in Burnham Overy Staithe.

Its new location looks nothing like Norfolk.

But the daughter of the author who penned the classic almost 50 years ago believes her mother would be pleased with the result.

When Marnie Was There, by Joan G Robinson, tells the haunting tale of foster-child Anna’s encounters with a mysterious girl amid the dunes and marshes.

When Marnie Was There. Photo: Studio GhibliWhen Marnie Was There. Photo: Studio Ghibli

The house which inspired the story still stands on the harbour at Burnham Overy Staithe. It brings back memories for Mrs Robinson’s daughter Deborah Sheppard, 73.

“She was always fascinated by the fact when you’re on the marsh, this house appeared when the light was right, then disappeared into the shadows,” she said.

“She was coming past it one evening and there was a little girl by the window having her hair brushed, that was the start.”
Marnie, published in 1967, was short-listed for a prestigious Carnegie Award. Mrs Robinson, who died in 1988, went on to write four more children’s novels.

“The character of Anna was my mother,” said Mrs Sheppard, a retired occupational therapist with a home at Burnham Overy Town. “It’s how she behaved and thought about things as a child, it’s very much her.”

The house at Burnham Overy Staithe which inspired the mysterious story off Anna and Marnie. Picture: Chris BishopThe house at Burnham Overy Staithe which inspired the mysterious story off Anna and Marnie. Picture: Chris Bishop

Mrs Sheppard said she thought her mother would have approved of her story’s Japanese makeover.

“I was rather surprised in the beginning but I’m actually pleased with the result,” she said.

“While it’s very different to Norfolk where the book is based, they have stuck to the story very well, they have taken great care to stick to the story. Although it’s a

very different place, the story holds together very well.”

The re-make is by Studio Ghibli, known as the ‘Japanese Disney’. Released in Japan two years ago, the film is now being screened in British cinemas.

Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi said: “My initial reaction after reading the book was: ‘This won’t be easy to make into a film.

“Yet a certain visual image lingered in my mind long after reading the book — Anna and Marnie standing close together, holding hands, in the garden of a stone mansion that faces a beautiful marsh. “Maybe they could waltz in the moonlight? The two hearts will connect, always accompanied by nature’s beauty, a gentle breeze, and a familiar old tune.”

When Marnie Was There is playing at Picturehouse Norwich.

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