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Gormenghast
September 1, 2013 3:17 PM   Subscribe

The BBC mini-series of Mervyn Peake's epic Gormenghast covers the first two novels in the series, and includes amongst its cast Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Zoë Wanamaker, Stephen Fry, and many others. The four-hour, four episode series can be found in its entirety on YouTube in ~10 minute segments. The first episode segment is here, the rest can be found on this page. (Sorry no playlist.)

Peake and Gormenghast, previously on MetaFilter.
posted by hippybear (45 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've always avoided this because I love the books so very much I couldn't bear to see them ruined. I will take my courage in both hands and give it a shot...
posted by Decani at 3:20 PM on September 1, 2013


Prepare to be ...uh.

It's uneven.

Oh Fiona Shaw, You are always in these things.
posted by The Whelk at 3:22 PM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'll prepare. Thanks, hippybear!
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:23 PM on September 1, 2013


I remember catching this when it aired on PBS in my area some years back. Oddly enough I had never herd of the novels (Despite being a pretty big scifi/fant fan.) Stylistically it's pretty impressive...story wise....yeah I would agree with The Whelk that it's a bit uneven but still fun.
posted by Captain_Science at 3:27 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is a joyous birthday gift, deeply flawed as the adaptations are.
posted by winna at 3:38 PM on September 1, 2013


It is also available on Netflix as a 2 disk set...
posted by jim in austin at 4:05 PM on September 1, 2013



Prepare to be ...uh.

It's uneven.


I saw it back in the 90s. I found it incredibly dense, like biting into something that was at once rotten and delicious.

I liked it.
posted by philip-random at 4:08 PM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


And Fuchsia is played by Neve McIntosh, otherwise known as Vastra and other Silurians in that Dr Who.

There is a very strong argument that the Gormenghast sequence is another kind of British Fantasy from the strain that became so popular - on the one hand there was Tolkien and on the other Peake (and in a third direction, perhaps, Orwell - The Lord of the Rings, Gormenghast and 1984 might all, in their way, be seen as about coming to terms with the end of the British Empire). Michael Moorcock is a strong Peakeist, as (I think) is China Mieville. I'd say Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman have more Peakeishness than Tolkienosity about them. I'm something of a Peakeist, myself. What I felt about the TV series was that it wasn't completely right, but as that was impossible - the books depend so strongly on their glutinous language and the pictures it summons up in the reader's mind - it was, at least, nobly and enjoyably wrong.

In the making-of, one of the special effects chaps is saying that it was probably the last chance they'd ever have to do something like that with physical models, which is probably true. And it's certainly beautiful.

And Christopher Lee, of course, without whom no grand fantastical story is complete.
posted by Grangousier at 4:17 PM on September 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


I described it to my wife as Terry Gilliam's Brazil set in a Brothers Grimm fairy tale kingdom...
posted by jim in austin at 4:18 PM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Loved the book, loved the adaptation. I popped in to say I bought it years ago on DVD from Amazon so that I could watch it in all it's glory but it seems to be a tad expensive nowadays o_O
posted by unliteral at 4:29 PM on September 1, 2013


There is a very strong argument that the Gormenghast sequence is another kind of British Fantasy from the strain that became so popular - on the one hand there was Tolkien and on the other Peake (and in a third direction, perhaps, Orwell - The Lord of the Rings, Gormenghast and 1984 might all, in their way, be seen as about coming to terms with the end of the British Empire).

Yeah, I usually describe it as "Tolkien's contemporary reverse image." all the LOTR stuff is backwards looking myth cycles and yearnings for the comfort of home and hearth, it's pre-Empire.

Gormenghast is totally Imperial, a complex palace dynamic that has become so big, so old, and so unknowable that it can't be stopped or run efficiently and teetering so dangerously on the edge of total collapse it's surprising it hasn't happened already.
posted by The Whelk at 4:32 PM on September 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's pretty cheap if you can play european dvds.
posted by dng at 4:33 PM on September 1, 2013


(and yeah the adaptation is confusing and overripe and hard to follow, but it's set in a world that is by design confusing, overripe, and hard to follow, when just trying to get a basic answer about something requires 18 layers of increasingly obscure, arcane protocol that no one can remember the purpose of anymore. I mean Peake was one of the few Westerners to visit The Forbidden City, and it's an oft-cited inspiration for Gormenghast.)
posted by The Whelk at 4:37 PM on September 1, 2013


Gormenghast is one of the books I love and never finish. Have you ever had one of those days when the air had a particular quality, and the sky looked just so, and you became sharply aware of how something can pass out of existence and also stay with you forever? That's what the Gormenghast books feel like to me. That feeling is actually what made me start reading fantasy as a child, and most of the books that make me feel the same way are fantasy books, or at least have a Romantic sensibility: a cold feeling in the air, a visceral physicality that makes you shiver as if you've just crawled out of your camping tent into a grey, foggy morning. When you open a window into Gormenghast, you have an immediate feeling of being there, but that feeling is accompanied by a feeling of smallness, the feeling of being a dust mote on a vast background. Life is both very precious and impossibly minute, and you live in a world that is not, strictly speaking, cruel, but simply very, very big and almost completely beyond comprehension. Everything matters intensely to someone, but almost nothing matters to everyone, and there is both melancholy and beauty in that perspective.

By comparison, the BBC miniseries is a colorful character drama about a collection of eccentric characters going through a variety of machinations. It's well-cast and competently acted, but it never really stops to let you be in the moment.
posted by Nomyte at 4:38 PM on September 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


It's pretty cheap if you can play european dvds.
Yeah, I was joking. I bought the European DVD. The link above changed somehow, this is what I saw - Price: $117,645.42 Only 1 left in stock.
posted by unliteral at 4:40 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a huge Gormenghast fan, so Jonathan Rhys Meyers was a shock as Steerpike -- he's just too pretty and fey and not anywhere near as creepy as Steerpike ought to be. But maybe I'll have to revisit this.

Bear in mind that Sting played Steerpike in the BBC Radio 4 version ...
posted by vickyverky at 4:43 PM on September 1, 2013


Anyway, Gormenghast was a huge influence on my own cancelled DC project but it got killed before I could slide in a decent call-back line. Sigh. life isn't fair
posted by The Whelk at 4:47 PM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Rhys Meyers as Steerpike completely works for me. In a constructed world (and television production) where so many of the inhabitants have that "the exterior is a reflection of their interior" thing going on (which undoubtedly has a technical name, but I have no idea what it is), the beauty and public gentleness of Steerpike seems to be what keeps anyone in the castle from realizing the poisonous mole they have in their midst.
posted by hippybear at 4:49 PM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


*sets your beard on fire*
posted by Wolof at 5:15 PM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nuuuuuu! Beard fires bad!
posted by hippybear at 5:18 PM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Beard fires are a natural part of the beard ecosystem. They help clear out the tangles, cheetos, and other food remnants so that new beard growth can come in. Most beard wildlife is adapted to beard fires and can flee to safety when one starts. A no burn policy of beard management means that when beard fires do occur, they tend to be far more devastating and hard to manage.
posted by Grimgrin at 5:44 PM on September 1, 2013 [14 favorites]


I enjoyed it when I watched it a decade ago, but my recent attempt at reviewing it failed. It's got the look and budget of the new Doctor Who's first episode, when his adversaries were curbside rubbish bins. Same deal as the Neverwhere adaptation, basically. Still, kind of the foundation for my respect of Rhys Meyers.
posted by unmake at 5:51 PM on September 1, 2013


I'm a big fan of the books, which were influential on my own writing to some extent. Peake's writing is dense, but can be fast moving in places. The books are moving, funny, fascinating and sad, in turns. His character names are second to none. The series is uneven, yes, and there are occasional anachronisms, such as the electric lamp in one scene. Still worth watching for fans.

Slightly away from the main topic -- If you haven't seen these amazing sculptures of some of the characters, you're missing something very cool. They owe something to Peake's drawings, but have a definite life of their own.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:24 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Huh. Those two remind me of these four.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:30 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


And it's certainly beautiful.

That, plus I wasn't able to get into the books for whatever reason. So thanks! Last time I went looking for a DVD I couldn't find anything.
posted by sneebler at 7:51 PM on September 1, 2013


unmake: "Same deal as the Neverwhere adaptation, basically."

The TV show is actually the original with Neverwhere, the book is the adaptation.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 8:08 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well this is what comes from unprecedented breakfasts.
posted by angerbot at 8:55 PM on September 1, 2013


Subscribed. Read the books and loved them, especially the ending of Titus Alone (once I understood it) but when the series came over here I was unable to watch it. So this is an admirable bonus and justification for the time otherwise wasted on MeFi.

did i say wasted???
posted by arzakh at 9:54 PM on September 1, 2013


My son loved this series, and it was a bit weird to be having discussions about Gormenghast with a seven year old, let me tell you (he still hasn't read the books).
And now you tell me there is a BBC radio version? I will be the best mother ever this month I think :)
posted by Megami at 10:19 PM on September 1, 2013


As an avowed Tolkienist, the epic weirdness of the books just overwhelmes me. The tv miniseries was a digestible level of weird.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:01 AM on September 2, 2013


Michael Moorcock is a strong Peakeist

And is in fact writing a biography of Mervyn and Maeve.
posted by titus-g at 4:23 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ian Richardson and the (slightly ropey CGI) owls. Genius.
posted by scruss at 4:41 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


And is in fact writing a biography of Mervyn and Maeve.
posted by titus-g at 7:23 on September 2 [+] [!]


Was wondering when you'd show.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:27 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hey, it takes a long time to climb over all of those roofs.

(Bran Stark in A Game Of Thrones reminded me a lot of Gormenghast in those early chapters at Winterfell. Until he fell).
posted by Mezentian at 6:19 AM on September 2, 2013


The TV show is actually the original with Neverwhere, the book is the adaptation.

As a pointless aside, while I''m spotting actresses in earlier, fantastical, roles - Door in the BBC Neverwhere is Lydia out of Breaking Bad.
posted by Grangousier at 10:22 AM on September 2, 2013


I alway get a tinge of excitement when someone mentions Gormenghast. It seems like no one I come in contact with knows what the hell I'm talking about and it's a bitch to explain it to people.

I also find it difficult to reccomend the BBC miniseries - it's rather weird and a lot think people think it's kind of bad . But I LOVED it when I first saw it on PBS many moons ago (never heard of the book before that). I loved it for its weirdness just like I loved David Lynch's version of Dune for its strangeness. I still watch Gormenghast almost once a year.

I've had the book for many years, but I haven't had a chance to actually read much of it. What I've read though I've really liked. Pikes imagery is fantastic and I just love the names he comes up with. I reccomend looking up the sketches hes done of characters and environments.

Bran Stark in A Game Of Thrones reminded me a lot of Gormenghast in those early chapters at Winterfell.

I totally thought the same thing when reading AGoT!
posted by littlesq at 11:34 AM on September 2, 2013


Grrr... PEAKES imagery is fantastic I mean. SteerPIKE is still a badass name though.
posted by littlesq at 11:46 AM on September 2, 2013


I have read the books, which are very literate and involved and inward-looking and not particularly mythic. I was intrigued but not um, grabbed. The illustrations, on the other hand....no mention here of Peake as an illustrator? As an illustrator he was fabulous, idiosyncratic and creepy. Also technically superb. I believe he was mentally ill, and ended his life in an asylum, never was sure whether it was organic deterioration or psychic disintegration. (I suppose Mr. Google knows but I can't quite get used to the internet suddenly having all the gen on stuff it knew nothing about five years ago.)

The Beeb also did an adaptation of Mr. Pye, the novel set on Sark. It was...kind of creaky and plummy and late 20C middle-middle class, a fault which makes no few of their adaptations insufferable (including, for me, Gormenghast.) I believe it may have starred Derek Jacoby.

Listed among books illustrated by Peake is The Pot of Gold and two other tales, A Judah, Faber and Faber, 1959. I got very excited seeing that, thinking at first it might be The Crock of Gold by James Stephens. With such a writer and such an illustrator, that would have been a truly strange, rare and fabulous volume.
posted by glasseyes at 12:58 PM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Jonathan Rhys Meyers was a shock as Steerpike -- he's just too pretty and fey and not anywhere
> near as creepy as Steerpike ought to be.

As most of the fans will probably already know, Peake also drew and painted quite a lot. Here's his own Steerpike to compare with everyone's mental images.
posted by jfuller at 1:02 PM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


The moment in Episode 3, Part 2 where Titus crawls out of Gormenghast into the world outside through a very specifically shaped hole is something which has stuck with me since I first saw this over a decade ago. I'm glad to see it again and realize I had not made that imagery up somehow.
posted by hippybear at 2:46 PM on September 2, 2013


*sets your beard on fire*
posted by Wolof at 1:15 AM on September 2


*hurls cat*
posted by Decani at 11:59 AM on September 3, 2013


I made it about 2 minutes in before I bailed out - the medieval costumes just aren't how i see it. I picture the world of Gormenghast much more like this.

I just started Titus Groan last week and am still way too involved in it. If I'd seen this first I think it would have driven me away from the books. Some of the descriptions I'd read almost drove me away before.

The book is unlike any modern fiction I can think of - I keep trying to describe it to friends and keep going with something like 'Bruno Schulz writing about Dickens characters trapped in Kafka's Castle.'
posted by rock swoon has no past at 1:01 PM on September 3, 2013


I am reading it aloud to my wife. I've read the books several times but aloud it's a whole new experience.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 10:04 AM on September 4, 2013


I am reading it aloud to my wife.

Kinky? Touching? I have no idea.

(I have only read the first book once, and I have somehow failed to get further despite that being one of my fave books).
posted by Mezentian at 6:52 AM on September 6, 2013


We're both writers; and although gothic (or whatever you call the Gormenghast books) isn't her genre by a long shot, she, like me, gets high off Peake's amazing language.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 4:02 PM on September 11, 2013


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