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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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Chronicled here are seventeen years in the life of newly born Titus Groan, 77th heir to Gormenghast. Increasingly he will hate the straitjacketing life he is expected to lead and long to escape. Meanwhile abused young dogsbody Steerpike schemes his way up from the kitchen, seemingly intent on causing destruction and death....

Two Mervyn Peake novels have been adapted for this lavish 2000 screen telling. I do not know the books, so can only comment on what was seen. Presented is a world extraordinary in the extreme, full of flamboyant characters played by some very surprising names. Central is Steerpike, Jonathan Rhys Meyers delivering a real tour de force. At first his plight evokes sympathy, this diminishing as he grows ever more callous - ultimately out of control.

Four crammed hour long episodes, attention riveted throughout. Interesting bonuses (which I found tricky to access). They contain fascinating anecdotes (as how that albino rook was obtained) and illuminating observations from several of the cast.

Fans of the books may have reservations, but I liked most greatly what I saw.
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on 22 June 2017
A nice little adaptation of the first & second Titus Groan books. It is very surreal and a bit confusing at times (true to the books!), but enjoyable nonetheless.

The world is fantastic and portreys well a society which now only contains two classes - only the lowest of the low (the carvers, servants) and the higest (aristocracy) - with everything in between decayed and missing. The story chronicles one of said lowest (a kitchen boy called Steerpike) transcending through guile, cunning and skullduggery into the Aristocracy.

The stellar cast is generally excellent and provide a wide variety of characters to love and hate! The style is certainly not to everyone's taste, and some of it seems to drag and feel unneccessary, but overall it's well worth a watch.
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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.
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on 26 March 2017
Early Jonathan Rhys-Meyer at his eccentrically, squirmy best as Steerpike. Slightly self-conscious and cringe-worthy but essentially true to the book. June Brown is excellent as the dottily weak Nanny Slagg, the Twins are delightfully bonkers and Titus himself is portrayed as a bewildered, yet self-assured, independent young man to the eternal displeasure of his matriarchal mother, played with stunning realism by a heavily made-up Celia Imrie.
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VINE VOICEon 28 July 2017
Weird, but compelling TV.

Seems some readers of the book hate this, but not having read it, it makes a surreal TV series in its own right.

A stellar (some not so at the time) cast revel in their roles, but the scenery builders and people responsible for the whole look of the programme deserve equal billing!

I suspect some will just not enjoy this, but you're unlikely to be able to say "It's just like..."
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on 11 May 2017
Total quality item. DVDs well packaged, booklet informative. The series was splendid, great british acting & design, filming, and music.
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on 3 August 2017
different but good
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on 13 June 2017
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on 29 June 2015
Classic weird
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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.
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