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
This BBC mini-series is actually a combination of the books Titus Groan and Gormenghast. In 4 - 1 hour parts, being from the BBC they're really close to a whole hour as opposed to the usual 45 minute network episodes.
Gormenghast is an ancient kingdom that must be located somewhere in Europe, since it is populated with Europeans. More specifically, it is populated with really odd Europeans, which sounds more like Great Britain. In fact it is a fictional location in which Mervyn Peake has created an extremely ossified culture, technologically stagnant, that indulges itself in numerous obscure rituals that cover almost all routine events, written down in huge books and applied as if their lives depended on it.
The story centers around the Groans, who's male heirs rule as Earls. Titus is set to become the 77th Earl of Groan, and as he matures he sees it as his doom rather than his destiny, and comes to despise Gormenghast.
At first, however, he's just a baby and the story centers on his father and the odd ducks that are his family and servants. Into this mix is added Steerpike, a kitchen boy of huge ambition that finds ways to ingratiate, titillate and extort his way to a much higher position, hardly killing anyone at all to get there. The Groans and Gormenghast in general are so dense and caught up in the minutiae of their lives it takes them years to realize that there's a raccoon in the chicken house, so there's plenty of story to take up a 4 hour mini-series.
I read these two books once upon a time and hardly remember them. I believe the BBC series plays Steerpike a bit more sympathetic than the books did. The trilogy has been compared to LOTR and the Thomas Covenant trilogy, both of which I liked more than Gormenghast. Gormenghast is fiction not fantasy, there are no dragons, orcs or hobbits. The kingdom appears to be mostly medieval with some touches of modernity here and there. The closest thing to monsters are the huge Death Owls.
What makes the mini-series work is a very talented cast that bring their characters to life. They make it a pleasure to watch, if only once. 8/10
The 2 DVD set has a Making Of, Cast interviews, a few unrelated trailers. It is all shot in a peculiar not-quite 4:3 or 16:9 format, at least the way my hardware decoded it to the screen. Video and audio are strictly TV quality, with video colorful if a bit smeared and audio all upfront mono as far as I could tell. The DVDs get a 6/10 for getting it on my screen but not much else.
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