In the year 2000 the BBC celebrated the millennium by creating a mini-series of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghat & Titus Groan. I am not sure what lunatic inspiration took hold of a producer to give the BBC the courage to make such a bizarre and epic tale into a miniseries, but I am so glad that it happened.
Gormenghast stands alone. It is a castle the size of a city, ancient and neglected but still lived in. The people who inhabit it’s stony walls live under the burden of never ending traditions and rituals. No one is more heavy laden than the man, who rules over all, the Earl of Gormenghast.
The story follows the unseemly rise to power of lowly, clever, manipulative kitchen boy Steerpike and the growing rebellion of the young Earl Titus, who wants to be free of his responsibilities once and for all.
If you have not seen it yet, here are three reasons why you should:
- Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Steerpike
Known now for the Tudors, Jonathon Rhys Meyes is unbelievably good at being bad. Whatever scene he is in you can almost hear the cogs turning in his mind with spiteful plots of revenge. Watching Steerpike seduce, lie and murder his way into power soon leaves you with divided loyalties. The more evil he becomes the more torn you are, he is the bad guy he needs to be stopped but he is so entertaining, you really don’t want to lose any screen time of him.
- Dialogue as rapid as West Wing and as mad as Alice in Wonderland
There are few characters in Gormenghast that are not mad in some form or other, but there are even fewer that are inarticulate. Even the ones who say little, seem to say it in a way that is utterly captivating. However it seems that the best banter was reserved for the excitable Doctor Prunesquallor and his man-mad sister, Irma.
- A supporting cast of platinum quality
Christopher Lee, Stephen Fry, Fiona Shaw & Spike Milligan. Need I say more? Deciding who is you favourite character in Gormenghast would be like choosing which character you cared least about from Twilight. It can’t be done. Each one is uniquely odd, it is a show of eccentrics, and the best of British talent was allowed to sink their teeth into them.
Gormenghast is mad, it’s dark, and yet it is surprisingly funny. The look of the thing is fantastic as well. From the sets to the costumes there is a consistent feeling of faded glory. A place holding on to its former splendour whilst slowly diminishing into the darkness.
If you haven’t yet seen it, then find it. And if you share my fangirl love of it, please comment and share your favourite parts!