Skip to main content

Nobody ever leaves the circle.


Children of the Stones
2: Circle of Fear


Episode Two focuses in on father-son theorising. The recovering Adam, who requires a large glass of Scotch to soothe his nerves, remains dismissive of supernatural forces. He sees the energy as electromagnetic, a “perfectly natural phenomenon”. So Margaret has to go to work on him as “a man of sensitivity”. It’s a curious conceit to fashion the scientist as a closet receptive, but it isn’t that uncommon; the hero has to be able to rise to the challenge of any forces that come his way. The magpie pseudo-science, pseudo-folklore reminds me a little of Doctor Who’s Image of the Fendahl, also concerned with scientists in a rural environment experimenting on ancient artefacts and encountering vast unleashed powers.


And, like that story (although much of that has tongue firmly in cheek), there are gloriously silly admissions such as “I read a fringe lunatic book on the psychic force in standing stones”, as if people put together a term like fringe-lunatic, and consider it viable reading. . Margaret’s understanding was that only certain people, “perceptives”, could feel the power, and it’s nice to see the constructive sparring of her objection to his electro-magnetism theory (“Even though you were earthed so was the stone?”), not to mention her witty making light of his experience; “You flew through the air with the greatest of ease”.


Matthew’s reaction to Dai is as unrestrained as kids hurling abuse at their elders probably got on mid-70s TV Series (“You – you nutter! You stupid old fool! Look at my bike! Look at my jacket!”)


Dai: Go on, swear a bit. Call me words.
Matthew: Oh no, the village idiot

Matthew’s initial apoplexy would suggest he’s the sort to heed Charlie’s advice never to talk to strange men who spy on you through telescopes. Especially when they try buttering you up with compliments like “You’re different then. Not mindless like the others”.


Jones is as great as ever and, cast to type as a trampish country-oddball, he instils confidence that his array of knowledge of both poaching and science (theodolites) is broad. I’m not quite sure how he knew Matthew let one of his rabbits go to leave the message in his trap (unless he’s been using that telescope again), but the sight of him tucking into the cold collation Matthew has left him, with a bottle of cider, is most amusing. His admonitions concerning the stones (“Don’t meddle with the stones”) intrigue, most of all the chillingly off-the-cuff comment that Matthew and his father are trapped there.


Dai: Leave? What do you mean? Leave the circle? Leave Milbury? Leave the stones? You never will.
Matthew: What do you mean?
Dai: Nobody leaves the circle.


He qualifies this by adding further unexplained mystery, how one can “get beyond their sight boy, but never out of their grasp. Not until the day of release”.


The back-and-forth of mystery and deduction is well conceived. I have to admit, Matthew’s keen scientific acumen comes across as a stretch, however. The only sign of his misspent youth is ham and bananas with gerkin and honey sandwiches. We learn that he has embarked on his own investigation in which he attempted to clarify the direction of the stones, on the premise that they all lean slightly towards the centre (the camera work around the stones, using low angles and wide angle lens – creates an effective sense of edginess and distortion). In fact, they are all “dead upright”. He only counted 23, of course; it would be 23, as that number is bound to show up even in non-odd TV and movies. The stones are all pointing in one precise direction – but upwards.


Adam: No stone circle was constructed at random.

Adam’s theory is that there is a giant dish under the ground, lending the entire circle a rock base. But he is baffled by the absence of an obvious path of alignment, so it is Matthew who provides the missing link. This is very much of a piece with the Quatermass and the Pit revelations that combine science, ETs and myth.  But Adam’s subsequent theorising is a leap into the dark, so he’s either secretly straining to unleash himself from the shackles of orthodox science or revealing what a sensitive man he is.


Adam: What we have here is a primitive Jodrell Bank immovably aligned with something up there.

He concludes that, if the dish was designed as a receiver for psychic forces, it follows that the signals must come from a force directly above it; this from a circle designed in Neolithic times. But why? There is nothing charted on that alignment path, so he asks Matthew to cable a friend in America at Montelimar Observatory.


The remainder of the episode backpedals on the theorising and concentrates on the sinister village undercurrents. Matthew attempts to make his father understand that the other kids are not normal, and then Adam leaves him home alone while he goes off for a pint (quite right too!) After his crackpot theory, he reverts to type with Margaret, commenting of ley lines “It’s all very unscientific”. And discussion focuses on where all the villagers have disappeared to, where they go to one night every month (“My guess is they turn into werewolves”). Only Lyle and Browning, also recent arrivals, were about. And the affable Hendrick comes back into focus (“He’s pretty well informed about the local phenomena”), his Highfield House identified as a focus of the village and having been built on the site of earlier houses (not dissimilar to the generational manor in Stones of Blood).


As per the last episode, we end on the stones, as Matthew, who has been dreaming of his picture which falls, sees the same imagery and chanting as his father. Going to the stones, he perceives a blue mist has formed with villagers standing in a circle. As he touches one of the stones, Dai appears and grabs him; Matthew falls to the ground.


At this point it appears that the ancient mystical has been identified as a negative force. Britain’s pagan past is something to be fascinated by but also to fear; it holds diabolical secrets, not enchantments that can free us. It’s an understandable trope to seize on, since it butts heads against the new religion that took control of the British Isles. Or perhaps, as subtext, the writers are suggesting that the past is as constraining as the present. The ‘60s saw a swing back to nature, to embrace old ideas and beliefs that had been neglected and were perceived to be spiritually liberating. Milbury’s ancient system is just another set of shackles. And the way to free oneself? The application of warped logic, if pseudo-scientists Adam and Margaret are any indication.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Do you know that the leading cause of death for beavers is falling trees?

The Interpreter (2005) Sydney Pollack’s final film returns to the conspiracy genre that served him well in both the 1970s ( Three Days of the Condor ) and the 1990s ( The Firm ). It also marks a return to Africa, but in a decidedly less romantic fashion than his 1985 Oscar winner. Unfortunately the result is a tepid, clichéd affair in which only the technical flourishes of its director have any merit. The film’s main claim to fame is that Universal received permission to film inside the United Nations headquarters. Accordingly, Pollack is predictably unquestioning in its admiration and respect for the organisation. It is no doubt also the reason that liberal crusader Sean Penn attached himself to what is otherwise a highly generic and non-Penn type of role. When it comes down to it, the argument rehearsed here of diplomacy over violent resolution is as banal as they come. That the UN is infallible moral arbiter of this process is never in any doubt. The cynicism

Yeah, it’s just, why would we wannabe be X-Men?

The New Mutants (2020) (SPOILERS) I feel a little sorry for The New Mutants . It’s far from a great movie, but Josh Boone at least has a clear vision for that far-from-great movie. Its major problem is that it’s so overwhelmingly familiar and derivative. For an X-Men movie, it’s a different spin, but in all other respects it’s wearisomely old hat.

Now listen, I don’t give diddley shit about Jews and Nazis.

  The Boys from Brazil (1978) (SPOILERS) Nazis, Nazis everywhere! The Boys from Brazil has one distinct advantage over its fascist-antagonist predecessor Marathon Man ; it has no delusions that it is anything other than garish, crass pulp fiction. John Schlesinger attempted to dress his Dustin Hoffman-starrer up with an art-house veneer and in so doing succeeded in emphasising how ridiculous it was in the wrong way. On the other hand, Schlesinger at least brought a demonstrable skill set to the table. For all its faults, Marathon Man moves , and is highly entertaining. The Boys from Brazil is hampered by Franklin J Schaffner’s sluggish literalism. Where that was fine for an Oscar-strewn biopic ( Patton ), or keeping one foot on the ground with material that might easily have induced derision ( Planet of the Apes ), here the eccentric-but-catchy conceit ensures The Boys from Brazil veers unfavourably into the territory of farce played straight.

I can always tell the buttered side from the dry.

The Molly Maguires (1970) (SPOILERS) The undercover cop is a dramatic evergreen, but it typically finds him infiltrating a mob organisation ( Donnie Brasco , The Departed ). Which means that, whatever rumblings of snitch-iness, concomitant paranoia and feelings of betrayal there may be, the lines are nevertheless drawn quite clearly on the criminality front. The Molly Maguires at least ostensibly finds its protagonist infiltrating an Irish secret society out to bring justice for the workers. However, where violence is concerned, there’s rarely room for moral high ground. It’s an interesting picture, but one ultimately more enraptured by soaking in its grey-area stew than driven storytelling.

Never underestimate the wiles of a crooked European state.

The Mouse on the Moon (1963) (SPOILERS) Amiable sequel to an amiably underpowered original. And that, despite the presence of frequent powerhouse Peter Sellers in three roles. This time, he’s conspicuously absent and replaced actually or effectively by Margaret Rutherford, Ron Moody and Bernard Cribbins. All of whom are absolutely funny, but the real pep that makes The Mouse on the Moon an improvement on The Mouse that Roared is a frequently sharp-ish Michael Pertwee screenplay and a more energetic approach from director Richard Lester (making his feature debut-ish, if you choose to discount jazz festival performer parade It’s Trad, Dad! )

Dad's wearing a bunch of hotdogs.

White of the Eye (1987) (SPOILERS) It was with increasing irritation that I noted the extras for Arrow’s White of the Eye Blu-ray release continually returning to the idea that Nicolas Roeg somehow “stole” the career that was rightfully Donald Cammell’s through appropriating his stylistic innovations and taking all the credit for Performance . And that the arrival of White of the Eye , after Demon Seed was so compromised by meddlesome MGM, suddenly shone a light on Cammell as the true innovator behind Performance and indeed the inspiration for Roeg’s entire schtick. Neither assessment is at all fair. But then, I suspect those making these assertions are coming from the position that White of the Eye is a work of unrecognised genius. Which it is not. Distinctive, memorable, with flashes of brilliance, but also uneven in both production and performance. It’s very much a Cannon movie, for all that it’s a Cannon arthouse movie.

Yes, exactly so. I’m a humbug.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) (SPOILERS) There are undoubtedly some bullet-proof movies, such is their lauded reputation. The Wizard of Oz will remain a classic no matter how many people – and I’m sure they are legion – aren’t really all that fussed by it. I’m one of their number. I hadn’t given it my time in forty or more years – barring the odd clip – but with all the things I’ve heard suggested since, from MKUltra allusions to Pink Floyd timing The Dark Side of the Moon to it, to the Mandela Effect, I decided it was ripe for a reappraisal. Unfortunately, the experience proved less than revelatory in any way, shape or form. Although, it does suggest Sam Raimi might have been advised to add a few songs, a spot of camp and a scare or two, had he seriously wished to stand a chance of treading in venerated L Frank Baum cinematic territory with Oz the Great and Powerful.

So, crank open that hatch. Breathe some fresh air. Go. Live your life.

Love and Monsters (2020) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, Michael Matthews goes some way towards rehabilitating a title that seemed forever doomed to horrific associations with one of the worst Russell T Davies Doctor Who stories (and labelling it one of his worst is really saying something). Love and Monsters delivers that rarity, an upbeat apocalypse, so going against the prevailing trend of not only the movie genre but also real life.

It’s always open season on princesses!

Roman Holiday (1953) (SPOILERS) If only every Disney princess movie were this good. Of course, Roman Holiday lacks the prerequisite happily ever after. But then again, neither could it be said to end on an entirely downbeat note (that the mooted sequel never happened would be unthinkable today). William Wyler’s movie is hugely charming. Audrey Hepburn is utterly enchanting. The Rome scenery is perfectly romantic. And – now this is a surprise – Gregory Peck is really very likeable, managing to loosen up just enough that you root for these too and their unlikely canoodle.

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) (SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II ’s on YouTube , and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.