Hats off to the BBC. Whether it was madness or genius that inspired a TV take on Mervyn Peake's dream- like, lyrical fantasy Gormenghast
, the audacity of the attempt deserves to be saluted. They know it too. Hovering somewhere between arrogance and defiance, the first page of The Art of Gormenghast
features a letter sent by Graham Greene
to Mervyn Peake's wife in 1962 stating that the trilogy could not be filmed; "I'm very sorry to write so bluntly but what are the good of illusions?"
There need be no illusions about The Art of Gormenghast. This sumptuous companion to the TV series charts the making of an epic, inglorious behind-the-scenes Technicolor. Full-colour stills, interviews with leading members of the star-studded cast and production team, design, music and costume notes, storyboards, director's annotations and Peake's own illustrations are all woven together by producer Estelle Daniel's lovingly-crafted and wide-ranging narrative. Gormenghast's legacy is never far away, whether it's Daniel dissecting Peake's imaginary world, "his characters with their absurd names, are heightened and exaggerated towards the grotesque, but encompass a breadth of human experiences" or actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers, displaying all the single-minded conviction of his character, "like Steerpike I would rather die than fail and that's honest. I would rather die than fail."
In his Foreword, Stephen Fry gives some idea of the scale of the BBC's undertaking commenting that "they [the producers] were talking, it seemed to me, about the equivalent of four British feature films in the time it takes to make one". The massive effort involved in realising this TV dream mirrors Peake's own struggle to complete his work through war and illness; "He wrote in 'publishers' dummies' throughout the war ... At the end of each home leave he would pile them up under the bed ... his wife Maeve even sleeping with them so that she could move them quickly in case of an air raid." The parallel struggles bear witness to the potential of individual vision to achieve the extraordinary.
The Art of Gormenghast is a beautifully presented volume with absorbing text and photography that will delight all lovers of Peake's fantastic creation. It may have taken more than half a century to get this far but inevitably all roads lead to Gormenghast. --Iain Campbell
From the Back Cover
Defying imitation, dreamlike and visionary, Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy occupies a unique place in modern English fiction. Now, for the first time, Peake's extraordinary work of imagination has been brought to life in a spectacular production for the BBC.
Written by Estelle Daniel, whose creative force as a producer has contributed to the realisation of Gormenghast as a unique piece of television, 'The Art of Gormenghast' provides an insight into every aspect of the Gormenghast story. From the strange genius of Peake, the author and illustrator whose diverse and deeply affecting experiences in feudal China and World War II gave birth to the Gormenghast legend, to the reality of a stunning production, 'The Art of Gormenghast' is a lavish and comprehensive behind-the-scenes guide to his landmark series.