“Substitutionary locomotion, it’s the mystic power that’s far beyond the wildest notion.” Yes, when I was four or five years old, I thought it certainly would be beyond my wildest notions to watch inanimate objects move autonomously. And yet, when I watched Bedknobs and Broomsticks for the first time, my wildest notions were right there on my television screen. I saw Dame Angela Lansbury sing those magical lyrics to make a pair of shoes dance happily across the floor. I don’t know if I used her incantation “Treguna, Mekoides, Trecorum Satis Dee” to try and make my own loafers do the foxtrot by themselves, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I did.
Angela Lansbury was a constant fixture of my childhood. I would regularly step into the worlds that she had helped create. I stared in childlike wonder at the scene in Bedknobs where she loses control of the substitutionary spell and then the contents of her wardrobe cavort anarchically across the room. I lost myself in a good mystery and exercised my problem-solving skills watching the iconic television series Murder She Wrote, where Lansbury plays Jessica Fletcher, a mystery author and amateur super sleuth who always cracks the case and finds the killer before the police do.
As I reflect on Lansbury’s passing, I do berate my younger self who I believe should have delved into the back catalogue of her more subversive work. Thankfully my older self knows better. As I got older, I discovered that Angela Lansbury is much more than Jessica Fletcher and her homely work with Disney. I am in awe of her performance in The Manchurian Candidate. She is an absolute monster in that one. In this film, she plays one of the world’s worst mothers who brainwashes her son into becoming an assassin. In this film’s most memorable scene, Lansbury’s character Eleanor Shaw Iselin tells her son to ‘shoot the Presidential nominee through the head.’ Her face partly covered in shadow, eyebrows raised, with the overhead light reflecting in her eyes, she speaks slowly yet firmly, telling her son exactly when he should kill the Presidential nominee in a manner that is borderline maniacal and sends chills down the spine.
Lansbury was nominated for an Oscar for her turn in Manchurian and was nominated for three Oscars in total throughout her career and won an Honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement in 2013. She was also a prolific stage actor, winning six Tony Awards throughout a career that has spanned eight decades. Lansbury starred in Murder She Wrote for nine seasons and further television movie specials and her role as Jessica Fletcher made her one of the most bankable female stars in Television, earning her a fortune estimated at one hundred million dollars which made her one of the wealthiest women in the USA when the series first aired. In 2014, Lansbury was made a Dame for her services to drama, charitable work and philanthropy.
One of Angela Lansbury’s last acting jobs was a very brief appearance in Mary Poppins Returns, where she played a balloon seller. Michael Banks and his children greet her, and Mr Banks admits that he hasn’t held a balloon since he was a child. Lansbury replies “Then you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a child.” As time marches on, as the sand falls ever too rapidly to the bottom of the hourglass, it does become more and more difficult to remember childhood moments and what the world felt like as a child. That sense of unbridled enthusiasm for life’s small pleasures. Revisiting Angela Lansbury’s filmography has allowed me to revel in my childhood. Watching Lansbury chant the incantation in Bedknobs and Broomsticks was comforting as it reminded me of the all-consuming, heart-swelling wonder I felt as a four or five-year-old seeing those shoes moving of their own volition. Angela Lansbury will be greatly missed.