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Gormenghast is an ancient city-state which primarily consists of a rambling and crumbling castle. The narrative, based on the first two of the three Gormenghast novels by Mervyn Peake, begins with the birth of a son, Titus, to the 76th Earl, Sepulchrave Groan, and Countess Gertrude. This mismatched pair (he'd prefer the melancholy privacy of his library; she'd prefer the company of her menagerie of cats and birds) also have a teenaged daughter, Fuchsia, who resents her new brother but comes to love him dearly. Simultaneously, a young kitchen apprentice, Steerpike, takes advantage of an altercation between head cook Swelter and the Earl's manservant, Mr. Flay, and escapes from the kitchens. Gormenghast is rigidly feudal in structure, but Steerpike has ambitions. He befriends the imaginative, yearning Fuchsia, and through her becomes apprenticed to the castle physician, Dr. Prunesquallor, who lives with his man-hunting sister Irma. This position allows Steerpike to work his way into the... Written by
My full agreement with the fellow who said "the scriptwriters should be executed".
Perhaps the worst thing about Gormenghast is the horrendous, galling waste of what could have potentially been the best movie ever made. Look at those actors! Anyone who can say "the movie was faithful to the book" is either comparing it to the most outlandishly unfaithful adaptations of all time or simply did not read the same novels I read (and I read them before the movie, so you know I'm going to be riled... although I am generally very open-minded and don't expect a movie to match a book exactly, I )
Some of the warpings are forgivable and understandable, but far too many are appalling. Most notable is the way that they tore the heart out of Fuschia's chest and stuffed it into Steerpike's, ruining what is perhaps the most captivating aspect of Mervyn Peake's generally spellbinding fiction--that is, besides the gothic beauty (which ended up as campy bright pastel fantasy castles in the movie).
In the books, Steerpike is not a 'nice guy deep down' who just goes wrong because he isn't loved by the foolish, selfish woman. I suspect the scriptwriters were misogynists. No, in the books, Steerpike is perhaps the most compelling and hideous villain ever concocted... exactly what makes him so unique is that he is at once ~entirely sympathetic~ and ~entirely wicked~. No, wicked is not the word... more like soulless, heartless, devoid of any human emotion. He values... ~things~, not people. That Mervyn Peake has written him so it takes you nearly the entire series, up until the VERY end to finally hate him with a black passion that will never die, is quite a marvel. How brilliantly the author sets you up.
Fuschia, in the movie, is nothing but a brat who never grows into a woman--in fact, she worsens into a brainless child with no willingness to choose love over safety. This is flagrant reversal of the true character.
Fuschia was THE most sympathetic character in the entire book. At the end, I literally felt like all the beauty had gone out of the world. I cried my heart out as if my own sister was lost to me. She would never have rejected Steerpike, NEVER! She would have sooner cut her own throat! She was bored with the stuffiness and suffocated by the traditions and so full of loneliness and heartache deep down. She was smart and had a good heart, but she had no real pride--she was just brought up in nobility, and her prejudices were an idiocy she grew out of. She longed for someone to care about and love her... the reason she rejected Steerpike in the end was because despite how high she held her torch for him, some part of her always knew that he had no soul underneath that charm. When he spoke to her in anger and was violent with her, that was the last straw. Good for her. A brave and true heroine, if a tragic and slightly pathetic one.
There are good points to the movie, but the fact that they are present in such a chaotic caricature of the true story just makes it all the more painful. It is upsetting to me that it started out rather well but became unbearable towards the end. There were also some bad actors (including the bore of a snore who butchered Fuschia), particularly whoever did grave injustice to Sepulchrave, who in the book was not a tubby unprepossessing white-haired man which you would remember with a snort as 'the hooting loony'. Below I will list those that made the film bearable.
I actually liked all three Tituses. Very similar to the way I pictured them, and though young, I found them quite talented... and surprisingly, I liked Titus himself ~better~ in the movie than the book. The only difference, but still, one good thing I can say.
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is utterly spectacular. I was so thrilled when I heard he was playing Steerpike; I knew only he could do the role. Sadly, he was not given the chance, as he was handed a fake, watered-down/dumbed-down version of that role.
Gertrude was the one perfect point. Not only did they not really butcher her character, but everything about her in the movie was frighteningly similar to my imaginings, indeed, beyond my wildest dreams and too a spooky degree. Every gesture, every detail, her physical appearances, her apparent moods, her facial expressions, her hair, her size, her voice, EVERYTHING was perfect.
Flay, Christopher Lee as we know him, was of course brilliant. Not quite how I would have imagined Flay looking, but he acted Flay so well that I didn't really care, and he is the right height for it. Just beautiful.
I suppose on the whole I would still recommend the movie for these fine performances... but please, DON'T just say to yourself "I'll watch the movie first." It's not worth it. A good number of the 'actors' are putrid, and the sights and sounds of this miniseries will ruin all the lovely mental images Mervyn Peake could have created in your mind. Better to have them established ~before~ you see it, so that afterwards, you can more easily pick and choose as you like.
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