84 of 87 people found the following review helpful
on 30 October 2007
Ignore those who say that this doesn't do justice to the books - it's different, yes, but in a good way. What's the point in sitting down to watch something that's EXACTLY like the book, or complaining because it doesn't EXACTLY match what you thought it should look like? The BBC made an amazing job of what was almost impossible to film, and the cast is just perfect. Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays Steerpike with more than a touch of genius, and the chemistry between him and Fuchsia is spot-on... Everything about this is awe-inspiring; the sets, the scripts, the acting. Admittedly, Warren Mitchell's portrayal of Barquentine is more comical and capricious than the fearsome and powerful character in the book, but it works. Likewise, Irma Prunesquallor seems more ridiculous on the screen than she does on the page, but a bit of comic relief does wonders for this exquisitely dark production. The word 'masterpiece' is overused, or else I would not hesitate to describe Gormenghast as such. It is easy to forgive the odd bit of artistic licence, and when you consider that they have managed to compress three extremely complex books into four hours of fantastic viewing, it's difficult to find fault.
64 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on 3 May 2000
This BBC self-proclaimed Millenium Drama really is a triumph! Despite some critics chastising the production for not being 100% faithful to Peake's original novels, it's as faithful as any 4-hour TV adaptation could be! With beautiful, opulent costumes, seemingly endless sets and excellent "blue-screen' effects - the whole creation of the world of Gormenghast is like a dream, sprinkled with the stars of British acting. John Sessions is wonderful as the painfully verbose Prunesquallor, with Fiona Shaw truly sublime as his menopausally desperate sister Irma. Neve McIntosh is the most beautiful, infantile Fuchsia that one could imagine, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers is the very essence of emotionally troubled teenager as the ultimate social climber Steerpike. Topped off with the likes of film legend Christopher Lee as Flay, along with Celia Imrie, Stephen Fry et al. this really is a must see for fans of the genre. Read the novels in conjunction with the video to really get the best out of both!
96 of 105 people found the following review helpful
on 22 November 2003
First let me clarify where my viewpoint is coming from. The Gormenghast trilogy is probably my all time favourite literary work. I have "lived" with this wonderful story since I was but a strap of a lad, 18 years ago. I suppose you could say that it holds a special place in my heart, so I was always always going to be a difficult critic to convince. I was definitely looking forward to seeing the result though, when I read that the BBC were going to produce an adaption.
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.
66 of 73 people found the following review helpful
I watched Gormenghast when it was originally shown on BBC television and was totally raptured. From the outset, it appears you have a window into a lustrous, animated, impressionist, surrealist painting; such are the amazing backdrops of the extensive, eclectic, idiosynchratic castle alongside the costumes, expressions and eccentricities of the characters. It really feels like you have entered the imaginations of a flamboyant distopian; Gormenghast is all at once rich, beautiful, haggard and doomed. The intensity of the film, the strength of the characters and the epic nature of the story may be a little too much for some viewers (like a particularly rich chocolate gateau) but it is fun and handily divided into four parts.
Now for the issue of the book versus the televised version. As previously said, I watched the television series when it was first broadcast. I managed to wade my way through the trilogy of books (the last of which is not included in the adaptation) in the last year. It is true that the adaptation makes necessary exclusions and changes to enable it to be digested on film. My opinion on re-makes and adaptations is that if significant changes have been made, it can only be chastised if it affects the enjoyment of the original: in the case of Gormenghast, when I read the novels, the television adaptation soon lost its influence; I saw nearly all of the characters differently (apart from the sister Clarice and Cora) and enjoyed the books on their own merit.
Therefore, despite the changes and somewhat misinterpreted characters (such as Fuschia - a character I empathised with in the books, but cannot in the film) I think the BBC adaptation is a beautiful, exciting, disturbing achievement and should be enjoyed alongside the books. Well done, Auntie!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 December 2012
I first saw this series when it first aired when I was 10 years old. It haunted my dreams and I would remember strange images from this series (the name of which I couldn't pronounce).
Years later I find it on DVD and I watch it as an adult and it is everything I remembered and more.
First off this edition features all four one hour episodes plus some excellent special features including a great thirty minute making of. The picture quality is very good and if you watch the making of which uses clips from when the show first aired you can tell that they have improved the picture quality dramatically for this DVD release.
Never read the books and all the negative reviews appear to be by the novel's fans, I however can not find a single fault with this amazing, captivating and complex series.
Everything is great about this series but if I had to pick the best aspect it would have to be the characters and the great performances behind them. Steerpike is as slimy as Draco Malfoy as tragic as Hamlet and with the vocabulary of Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange. There is a lot of Alex in the performance: intelligence, hostility and the desire to have what he wants no matter what. It is such an interesting character and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers gives the perfect performance of a power mad, homicidal lunatic while giving the character enough empathy that we still love and engage with him. The final episode adds even more depth to Steerpike when the love story takes a turn towards the Phantom Of The Opera and we realise that Steerpike and the Phantom have always had a lot in common.
This has to be hands down Christopher Lee's greatest performance, he takes a simple character who speaks very few words but creates and brings so much empathy and depth to him. These two stand out but all the performances are fantastic.
The story and the world is wonderful, it feels Gothic and Shakesperanen whilst also having that very British Terry Pratchett feel. It also has a very distinct sound design with strange, haunting and captivating music.
Most interesting is that Steerpike has become to me the most interesting anti-hero I have ever encountered.
Overall, it's wonderful with images and characters you will fall in love with. I can't offer a comparasion to the original novels but this was my introduction to this world and it's characters and I loved every second of it.
For people seeking something truly different, wonderful, unpredictable, well crafted and staring one of the most interesting anti-hero's of all time this is a must buy.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 5 November 2002
I finally got round to watching the whole thing and I'm glad to say I wasn't disappointed. Let's face it, for starters it is practically unfilmable. The only place in which to hold the scale of somewhere like Gormenghast is the mind and never on a TV screen. But dammit the 'Beeb' gave it a good old college try.
I thought the cast was uniformly good except for the notable (and, frankly, crucial) exceptions of Steerpike and Titus. That said, the rest more than made up for this lack. I especially liked the performances of Ian Richardson and John Sessions who both added some much needed humanity to a slightly hysteric script.
My one big gripe is visual. Not the sets, I thought they were actually rather good, mixing periods and cultures rather well. No I found that the extensive use of model shots and bluescreen methods made many of the scenes visually flat and undynamic. The camera seemed rooted to the spot so much of the time.
All in all I would definitely reccomend this to anyone, just so long as they have more than a mayfly's attention span.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The birth of Titus Groan, heir to the vast castle of Gormenghast, is a time of great joy and happiness for the inhabitants. However, it also marks the beginnings of the rise to power of Steerpike, an ambitious boy from the kitchens who uses his ruthless schemes to secure a position of power and influence. As Titus grows to manhood, increasingly doubtful of his place in a castle steeped in tradition and ritual, so Steerpike's ambition, power and greed grows as well.
Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast Trilogy is one of the defining and most important works of the modern fantasy genre, a densely-written work of tremendous atmosphere and power. On a surface read it is also quite unfilmable, with much of the action in the book motivated by conflicts that are internalised within the characters and much of the storyline and characters being too offbeat, weird or surreal to be commercially viable.
This is probably why only the BBC - a public-service broadcaster which cares little about commercial success but has access to large budgets - could have even attempted a faithful adaptation of the series to television. This four-episode mini-series covers the first two books of the series, Titus Groan and Gormenghast. The third book, Titus Alone, was not attempted due to its significant budgetary requirements, time constraints and it being far too strange even by the standards of the rest of the trilogy.
To bring the books to the screen, the BBC spent a considerable amount of money. Filmed in 1999 and broadcast the following year, the serial has certainly dated (particularly the sections where greenscreen was obviously used) in respect to its composite work, but otherwise has held up well in terms of production values. The sets are highly impressive (especially when the castle is flooded during a downpour) and the costumes are superb. The effects work (by itself) is decent, although the matte paintings and CGI versions of the castle proved controversial amongst fans of the books. The BBC version of Gormenghast is arguably much more colourful than Peake's grey, crumbling ruin, with the TV version taking more overt inspiration from China's Forbidden City (Peake spent most of his first eleven years in China, where his parents were missionaries).
The casting is mostly excellent, with what feels like very British actor and comic of note at the time recruited for the project. Ian Richardson plays the increasingly befuddled Earl of Gormenghast, whilst Celia Imrie - better known for his comic roles - plays his wife, the cold, austere and commanding Lady Gertrude with a steely presence. The series features a very early appearance by Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Henry VIII in The Tudors) as Steerpike in a performance which veers between the convincingly conniving and threatening to painful over-acting at times (especially towards the end of the mini-series). Dominating the cast with his presence, gravitas and of course voice is Christopher Lee as Mr. Flay, the Earl's manservant who falls into disgrace and then appoints himself Steerpike's nemesis. Richard Griffiths is also notable as the head cook, Swelter, whose feud with Flay dominates the first half of the serial. Zoe Wanamaker and Lynsey Baxter also do great work as the isolated and confused Groan sisters, Cora and Clarice. Particularly impressive is Neve McIntosh as Fuschia, who plays a difficult character with conviction and succeeds in making her likable, despite her many moments of selfishness. Stephen Fry makes for a splendid Professor Bellgrove, and the mini-series is notable for one of the last appearances of the legendary Spike Milligan before his passing. Less successful is Andrew Robertson as the grown-up Titus, who lacks charisma and suffers the most from his internal conflicts not being readily accessible to the viewer.
So the production values are good and the cast - mostly - excellent. How does the mini-series fare overall? Well, it's okay. It's not brilliant, mainly due to the jarring tonal shifts. The Gormenghast novels move between comedy, farce, surrealism, gothic grotesquerie and powerful drama with ease, sometimes within the same scene. The TV show is much less successful in handling these movements, with the writing not often being up to the job (the TV show's tendency to use un-Peake-like swearing to punctuate moments of drama or comedy is obvious and dull). The comic moments tend to descend into bad farce with ease, not helped by a miscast John Sessions as Dr. Prunesquallor (he does his best and is occasionally even effective, but most of the time irritates). The compression of two 400-page novels into just four hours also sees entire storylines handled badly. There simply isn't enough time to handle the storyline of Keda and her baby and it should really have been exorcised entirely rather than shrunk into a few, highly confusing scenes. Elsewhere, Bellgrove's romance with Prunesquallor's sister may be taken from the book but it does feel like a large and unnecessary divergence from the central matters of Steerpike and Titus, and perhaps should have been condensed (to give the Keda storyline more time, as it impacts on Titus much more directly).
At the same time, when the serial does work, it works brilliantly. The flooding of Gormenghast, a highly evocative scene in the novels and one that you'd assume would not be possible to depict on a TV budget, is actually successful. Christopher Lee is awesome every time he's on the screen, and Neve McIntosh's excellent performance as Fuschia gives her character's storyline even more pathos and tragedy than in the novel (heresy!). Jonathan Rhys Meyers also seems to raise his game when in scenes with either of them, or with Celia Imrie. Gertrude is a highly unpleasant character, but Imrie plays her with total conviction and her single-minded ruthlessness, which makes her unlikable for much of the serial, suddenly becomes rather admirable when she uses it to remorselessly hunt down Steerpike.
Ultimately, the BBC version of Gormenghast (***) is unable to capture the full power of Peake's novels (no adaptation ever could), though some of the author's genius is successfully captured in fleeting moments. The excellent casting, solid production values and those scenes which really work certainly make the series worth watching, although a strong degree of teeth-grinding patience may be necessary to make it through the less successful moments (and much of the first episode, which is all over the place in quality before it starts to settle down). The series is available now on DVD in the UK and USA.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 24 March 2012
The books clearly have a following which hold that the characters and atmosphere, and of course plot, are to be literally copied. However, how can you do justice to the rich complexity of the books in just a handful of hours (not to mention budgetry constraints)? So, we end up with an interpretation of the books. This can be upsetting initially. I thought where is the crumbling Gothic castle buried deep in moss, ivy and nettles? Instead, the designers have, rather cleverly I think now, made a castle reminiscent of a Tibetan monastery or a Chinese palace. The idea for this came from Mervyn Peake's upbringing in an enclosed compound in China which some scholars think had a significant impact on Peake's writing: Rituals, servants and tradition. Anyway, once I realised and accepted this theme I felt alot more comfortable with many of the sets and furnishings because they made sense.
I must say that the casting was a joy for me. You can spot Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes in minor roles and there is great drama with Christopher Lee (Flay) facing off against nemesis Richard Griffiths (Swelter). For every character who is not quite right, there are a dozen who are. It is a fun adaptation which has a good few laughs but it never strays far from the theme of duty and tradition vs freedom and self-fulfilment.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 1 July 2004
I'm not going to ramble on for hours over the greatness of this Movie. Nor will I, to save time more than anything, sing it's much deserved praises. The haunting performance by Ian Richardson as the melancholy earl should speak for itself volumes, as should the spindly workings of one Jonathan Rhys Meyer (whom until now I've never been acquainted -what skill).
The only reason I hold back the full five star treatment is, and I know it's wrong to use this as an excuse, but there are just too many exclusions from the story that were prime to the original text. So large are some of the changes, that aside from certain characters backgrounds and 'own stories' being admitted (Keda for example) they just happen to die in a different manner and setting from that of the novels. I understand however the limitations of 'time on film' when attempting to transcribe such a book.
Overall an excellent watch!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 26 January 2014
Like Lord of the Rings there will be those that love the books AND the filmed versions,those on the fence and those that love the books but hate the filmed versions.
As for Gormenghast,well im on the fence.
For its budget the BBC couldn't have done better,BUT,like some reviewers have already stated its the colour and lighting i can't marry with the books.It should have been darker and more Gothic in feel and not these Somewhere Over The Rainbow(OZ)colours.
A decent enough,albeit trimmed down version.
Funnily enough i think the BBC radio version featuring Freddie Jones and Sting as Steerpike was more in keeping with the essence and feel of Peakes original vision,and i believe the play was produced by Brian Sibley, who ofcourse devised the classic Lord of the Rings epic radio dramatisations.