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Zastrozzi, A Romance is a four part adaptation of the 1810 Gothic horror novel by Percy Bysshe Shelley by David G. Hopkins, who directed and wrote the screenplay. Hopkins stays true to the plot and the themes of the novel but changes the time period from 1810 to the contemporary year of 1986 and switches the setting from Munich, Passau, and Venice to rural England. The plot revolves around an outlaw, Zastrozzi, who seeks revenge against his half-brother, Verezzi, whom he kidnaps and tortures. The story is about revenge and obsession. Verezzi is relentlessly pursued by Zastrozzi, driven by "the fiercest revenge", who states that "we exist together, we circle each other".
The series is divided into four parts, each consisting of 52 minutes, Chapter One: Capture, Chapter Two: Conspiracy, Chapter Three: Seduction, and Chapter Five: Murder.
Mark McGann played Verezzi, Tilda Swinton played his intended wife Julia, Hilary Trott played Matilda, who seduces Verezzi, Yvonne Bryceland was Claudine, Max Wall was the Priest, while the title character Zastrozzi was played by Geff Francis.
In the first segment, Verezzi is captured or abducted by Ugo, played by Matthew Zajac, and Bernardo, played by Bernard Padden, two henchmen working for the mysterious outlaw Zastrozzi. He escapes in their car.
In the second segment, Verezzi is befriended by Claudine, a wheel-chair bound woman. Zastrozzi and Matilda conspire to manipulate Verezzi and keep him under their control.
In the third segment, Matilda is able to seduce Verezzi by telling him that Julia is dead.
In the final segment, the confrontation between Matilda and Julia takes place.
The producers are Lindsey C. Vickers and David Lascelles. Andrew McAlpine was the production designer and Maggie Hayes designed the costumes. The musical score is by Martin Kiszko which imbues every scene and which highlights the drama.
The cast give excellent performances. Mark McGann portrays Verezzi as a passive and powerless victim. Hilary Trott is the sultry seductress who manages to seduce Verezzi. Julia, as portrayed by Tilda Swinton, is bewildered and aghast as the the third person in the love triangle. Geoff Francis gives a low-key and subdued performance as the mastermind of the tragedy, Zastrozzi. Max Wall is literally off the page in his performance as the irreverent priest, Oliver.
The adaptation stays true to the Percy Bysshe Shelley novel, even interspersing paragraphs from the actual book between scenes. The 1810 novel focused on atheism as the motivating theme for the action. This is largely absent in the television adaptation. There is also no trial or punishment of Zastrozzi and Matilda in the television version. We are not told what motivated Zastrozzi to seek revenge against his half-brother Verezzi. In addition, the role of the priest is expanded in this adaptation at the expense of the other characters and the development of the plot. The priest has no direct connection to the story but acts as a chorus like in a Greek tragedy.
The film debuted in the UK on April 13, 1986. The series was shown in the U.S. on PBS on the WNET program "Channel Crossings" in two parts on Thursday, October 16 and the following week on October 23, 1986.
The New York Times reviewer John J. O'Connor described the series as "admirably adventurous and provocative" and a "strange and imaginative film".
Overall, the writing, direction, and acting are excellent. This is an effective adaptation of the Percy Bysshe Shelley novel. David G. Hopkins deserves kudos for bringing to television this early Gothic horror masterpiece.
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