BOOK Review

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

THE ART OF GORMENGHAST The Making of a Television Fantasy By Estelle Daniel with a Foreword by Stephen Fry  A BBC Project published by Harper Collins Entertainment 164 pages softback, large format (11 inches x 8½ inches, portrait) £14:99

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This is a lavish and comprehensive souvenir of an outstanding BBC production.

For many years it was believed that Mervyn Peake's celebrated novels were not suitable for adaptation as screenplays. Indeed, the first thing you see when you open this book is the ironic reproduction of a letter, dated 30th November 1962, to Maeve Gilmore, Mervyn Peake's wife, from the author Graham Greene asserting that Titus Groan, the first novel of the Gormenghast trilogy, could not be filmed!

In an erudite Foreword, Stephen Fry summarises and argues against the objections that were first levelled at the idea of such a project - 'Can't be done… impossible…. Gormenghast is too gothic, gloomy, grotesque… Then we have a useful reminder, a synopsis of the four episodes of the television dramatisation. The concept of the BBC dramatisation and its development is covered before a section devoted to the life of Mervyn Peake and how he came to write his Gormenghast books including a discussion of the influences that guided his creation in both words and pictures. His boyhood life in China and his World War II experiences being major influences.

The art direction is covered in fascinating detail. We learn how Gormenghast was developed visually and how the buildings reflected many architectural styles from European Gothic through Near Eastern structures to the exoticism of Tibet and the Orient. Descriptions of the construction of the sets are included with many revealing illustrations. The costumes are beautifully illustrated with many full page close-ups showing their rich intricate design - the gowns, of Fuschia, Irma Prunesquallor, the identical twins and Lady Groan, based on the fashions of the Elizabethans, are all included. We learn, too, that the design of the tall, eccentrically bent hat of Nannie Slagg was taken from a Spanish gypsy mode from the 1930s.

A full diary of the production is included, so too are a number of story boards of key sequences like: the 'Earling' ceremony; the burning of the library, and the death of Barquentine. There is coverage of the way the animals were handled, the mass of white cats and birds etc; plus the influences that affected Richard Rodney Bennett's musical composition.

There are also many personal contributions, scattered through the book, from the actors who say something of what their roles meant to them and how they approached their interpretation of Mervyn Peake's characters.

A first class production that will be referred to time and again and worth every penny of its £15.


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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