A television fantasy for the whole family to watch, together

A Little Princess PBS, Saturdays through March 7, 8-9 p.m. Stars Amelia Shankley, Maureen Lipman, and Nigel Havers. Based on the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel. Director: Carol Wiseman. You may remember this story from the 1939 film (starring Shirley Temple) based on Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic tale about a rich girl who is mistakenly reported to be poor and then treated miserably at her snooty school.

Until ... until ... it turns out she is really wealthy.

Then, as if in a childish dream of upper-class superiority in a class-dominated society, she rewards all her friends with such jobs as personal servant and other snobbish, unthinking, but acceptable-for-their-era fantasies. And she goes to dwell with her benefactor, like a little princess.

Well, in this ``Wonderworks'' production, Amelia Shankley seems a bit too old for her role as the princess, but she is charming nevertheless.

The villainous headmistress (Maureen Lipman) is as nasty as fictional headmistresses are supposed to be.

The heroes take a bit too long to do their heroics.

The fantasies, however, are delightful fairy-tale daydreams - delicious fun to partake in, as long as we all know it's just harmless, period diversion.

``A Little Princess'' provides some good, old-fashioned mirth and merriment for the whole family.

If you can manage to get them all together for three weeks running, butter up the popcorn and circle the flickering TV set as if it were a tattered old storybook.

Sticklers for categories may insist that the book is really children's fare.

But if ``A Little Princess '' is for children only, you better call me Shirley Temple.

Arthur Unger is the Monitor's television critic.

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