Gormenghast: Ep. 1

“I stood on the field of stones and longed to fly into the clouds, but I could only feel the pain in my feet.”

Mervyn Peake

Gormenghast on DVD!

What is not to like?

In episode 1 of the BBC’s four-part adaptation of Meryvn Peake’s dense, sinister fantasy series, we meet the denizens of Gormenghast, a vast castle stretching for miles, ancient, decaying and hidebound, in thrall to obscure daily rituals whose meanings are long lost. Into this world comes Steerpike, a Machiavellian kitchen boy determined to rise through the ranks to gain Ultimate Power and challenge Titus the seventy-seventh, new-born Earl of Gormenghast.

So the series is…well, strange, I guess, is the word. Initially, it all seems a bit silly, almost laughable in its theatrical simplicity and its childlike caricatures: manservant Flay who can’t make proper sentences, wild, infantile Fuschia, princess of the Line, Prunesquallor the verbiose doctor. But it grows on you, I think. It becomes something utterly alien and yet fascinating, fantastical in its strangeness. The performances – especially those of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as the brilliant Steerpike and Neve McIntosh as Fuschia – are full of vitality and really quite absorbing, and though the sets are, you know, obviously sets (you can see the plastic gleaming under the lights) they fit nicely with the highly-coloured hyperrealism of this strange world.

What I’m trying to say, basically, is that you mustn’t expect realism here. But if you do expect a fascinating story, and an alien castle of secrets, then Gormenghast should be right up your alley.

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