It is always tricky to film a book dear to the hearts of its admirers: Wilson and his design team achieve a look rather more pre-Raphaelite than Peake's own illustrations, shabby velvets, garish sunlight and dank stone passages. The score by Richard Rodney Bennett is full of attractive surprises--fanfares and waltzes and apotheoses--and John Tavener's choral additions are plausibly parts of the immemorial ritual of Gormenghast.
On the DVD: The double DVD comes with scene selection, an informative half-hour documentary on the making of the serial and a slide gallery of costume designs, characters and their dooms. --Roz Kaveney
The first problem is the format. There is no way that the first two books could be filmed in 4 hours, whilst keeping the narrative and dramatic integrity of the books. When lesser, mainstream and unimportant "pap" series can command six 1 hour episodes, and considering the amount of time and money involved in bringing the production to the screen, it is frankly amazing that the Beeb would cut the legs from under the production before it was even made. The end result is comparable to driving through the centre of Florence at high speed! Many beautiful impressions appear fleetingly, with the next vista appearing before the previous can be digested. Subsequently many wonderful plot and character details are cut from the work to fit the time constraints. The greatest example of this is the removal of the Keda's life and loves.
The second, and to this reviewer, even more serious flaw, is in its handling of the most important character, and one of the few with whom the reader forms an emotional bond: namely Fuschia. In the first book she is a 15 year old girl, given to a life in her own imagination, through her alienation from her family and those around her ( Nannie Slagg apart). What do we get? An actress in her mid twenties purveying the ghastly scene of a child in an adult's body, causing the viewer to assume that she must be suffering from developmental problems! The end result is reminiscent of a pantomime. (Gwyneth Paltrow as Alice anyone?)
The final flaw is to completely alter the nature of Fuscia's relationship with Steerpike, so that her most important scene in the second book (when she stands looking out of her window across the flooded landscape), is altered from one of the most beautifully moving pieces of prose to a cheap (and convenient) piece of plotting.
So why do I give it 3 stars do you ask, given my harsh critique? The bulk of the casting was exceptional, Steerpike was a revelation, and much of the visual language was faithfully reproduced: Cora and Clara's tree being a perfect example.
Enjoy this adaption, but make sure you read the book also. The former is in no way a representation of the depth and beauty of the latter.
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