Skip to main content

Are you coming into my wild wood?

The Box of Delights
2: Where shall the ‘nighted Showman go?


The scenes within King Arthur’s Camp were filmed during June, five months apart from the snowbound Aberdeen locations that give the series such a traditional Christmassy vibe. Snow so deep the crew had to film in and around the grounds of the hotel where they were staying is supplanted by foam at Reading Castle.


The sequence is most notable for the hack’n’slash enthusiasm with which Kay takes care of some wolves (Herne, now adorned in Knight’s garb, has no compunction with handing him a sword and instructing him get on with it). He’s a little too cheerful as he skewers one (off screen, of course). And what’s with the poor wolf/dog stand-in being unceremoniously lobbed into shot?


Fortunately this kids-with-swords business is curtailed by the arrival of Cole Hawlings. Just prior to his intervention, there is a suitably spooky reminders of the dark magic at work, as Kay sees a flash of wolf’s head. Cole looks as if he’s been summoned to join the angelic host, sashaying about in white robes, while his powers over time and space suggest Rye may have been guilty of typecasting. Really, though, Troughton couldn’t be more different from Doctor Number Two.


The time warp effects; well, they do the job and that’s what counts. Visually, they suggest the idea of a snow globe; the outside world is caught in a bubble. And where is this place that Kay and Cole meet? Somewhere outside of time and space, it seems. As noted of the first episode, one of the pleasures of the story is its reliance on murky history. Cole offers mere suggestions of his background. We hear the name of Master Arnold (“Gone a long way back, has Master Arnold”), but despite Kay’s further questioning we won’t really get a handle on him until the fourth installment. 


Hawlings tells Kay of the box, “I’ve not had it long” and it’s curious that, even with the aid of an object Abner believes holds leverage, Cole believes he is unable to guard himself against the new magic because he’s “old now”. It seems that, even with immortality on one’s side, one will wear out in some shape or form. Cole continues to deliver his lines in a form of attractively tilted poetry (“Ah, the police don’t heed… the kind of wolf that’s after me”; more than the proved the case with the subsequent encounters with the oblivious “bloodhound of the law”).


Most significantly, Kay is shown how to work the box (right for small, left to go swift) and asked to keep it from others and safe until Cole can claim it. He is promised that, if he returns at dawn, he may see what’s come of the Punch and Judy Man. There’s a sense in Cole’s manner that all this is foreseen in some way; he is surely aware of the danger that awaits, but does not avoid it. The Kay flying effects are expectedly poxy, but then they were at the time; it’s another example of making allowances because the atmosphere wins out.


It’s worth mentioning the dream/transportation effect used at points during the serial, as it will recur several times before preceding the “It was all a dream!” reveal in the final episode; it represents fodder for those arguing that it all wasn’t a dream at all.


Peter: Well, they scrobbled the old man!


The first case of scrobbling, a great term, occurs at dawn as Kay, with Peter, return to Bottler’s Down to see Cole abducted and fetched off in a car/plane (caroplane). The most arresting aspect of this is the snowy vista; you can quite see why it was only possible to shoot in the hotel grounds, as the snow renders the actors near-immobile.


James Grout, best known for his role as Chief Superintendent Strange in Inspector Morse, plays the Inspector at Tatchester Police Station. He’s a well-meaning irritant, and following the Bishop represents the second incompetent authority figure picked out by Masefield. He dismisses the concerns of Kay and Peter, suggesting it was all just a frolic by officers at the aerodrome, a “Christmas ragging”. When Cole’s captors call out of the blue (either a result of Abner’s Rat keeping tabs, or less corporeal measures), the Inspector announces it as a “co-insidence” and amusingly keeps asking one last question before failing to hand Kay the receiver.


There is some back-and-forth from here, as Kay and Peter briefly return home to help build a snowman (the kind of indulgence that would be left on the cutting room floor if this was made today; there’s even more of that kind of thing the following week) before heading off back to the Down (“Too much discipline here all together!”) when Ellen starts getting bossy. 



The return is necessary, however, as we need to be aware that Abner is onto Cole not having the box; Charles and Joe are hunting for it.


Herne: Are you coming into my wild wood?

The highlight of the episode is Kay’s entrance into the world of the box, an animated tour de force that hasn’t aged at all. It’s curious that there appears to be no clear method for entering the box-scape, unlike the specific actions to shrink or fly.


Kay receives an initiation of sorts from Herne, first transforming into a stag, and one wonders if Masefield was drawing on some law or doctrine to which he himself may have been privy (and from there revealed yet shrouded in the pages of a children’s novel). 


Kay’s induction into the magical truths of the natural world takes in specifically the land, air and sea. At each stage a predator pursues them, and at each stage they must transform (a principle of alchemy) in order to elude their pursuer.


Herne: Did you see the wolves in the wood?
Kay: No.
Herne: That is why we became wild ducks. Did you see the hawks in the air?
Kay: No.
Herne: That is why we became fish in the river. Now, do you see the pike in the reeds?


Finally, they become deer again, before Herne transforms into a tree; Kay’s first “trip” is over. The trials of nature as presented by Herne might appear elusive in meaning, except that Kay’s very next encounter is with his own natural predator; Abner Brown.


It’s during this sequence that we witness the skewed perspectives allowed by Rye. The mouse (Simon Barry) that helps Kay find Abner’s meeting place is the size of young Master Harker when he goes small. The pirate rats they elude (who include one Nick Berry among their ranks) appear significantly larger (hard to be sure as we mostly see the size difference in flying sequences) and Rat himself is larger still, human sized. And further afield again, there’s no suggestion that Barney dog has the ability to converse (but this kind of selective anthropomorphism isn’t that uncommon in the cartoon world).


Abner: As for the boy… What I won’t do to that boy…


Abner, playing with matches, is wonderfully splenetic. Stephens was once a next-big-thing, even occasionally cast in leading man film roles (most notably Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes), but his love affair with the evil liquor ensured his career was never as bright as it could have been. He gives it his all in Box, however; there’s absolutely no suggestion he sees this as just a kids’ programme (and the spirits may actually have benefited him on occasion; we see him plunge into icy waters in both the fourth and final episodes).

Comments

  1. Rewatching at the moment & was struck, for the first time, that Kay is remarkably enthusiastic in his hacking & slashing! Never noticed that before. The forest scene is masterful & the soundtrack is the kind of thing that Ghost Box & the like are doing a good job of emulating. The scenes on Bottlers Down are so atmospheric too. I'll be reading your take on it after each viewing...

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

It was one of the most desolate looking places in the world.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, broadcast by the BBC on the centenary of Armistice Day, is "sold" on the attraction and curiosity value of restored, colourised and frame rate-enhanced footage. On that level, this World War I documentary, utilising a misquote from Laurence Binyon's poem for its title, is frequently an eye-opener, transforming the stuttering, blurry visuals that have hitherto informed subsequent generations' relationship with the War. However, that's only half the story; the other is the use of archive interviews with veterans to provide a narrative, exerting an effect often more impacting for what isn't said than for what is.

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Believe me, Mr Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create ze proper effect.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
(SPOILERS) Some of the reactions to Spectre would have you believe it undoes all the “good” work cementing Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond in Skyfall. If you didn’t see that picture as the second coming of the franchise (I didn’t) your response to the latest may not be so harsh, despite its less successful choices (Blofeld among them). And it isn’t as if one step, forward two steps back are anything new in perceptions of the series (or indeed hugely divisive views on what even constitutes a decent Bond movie). After the raves greeting Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan suffered a decidedly tepid response to his second outing, Tomorrow Never Dies, albeit it was less eviscerated than Craig’s sophomore Quantum of Solace. Tomorrow’s reputation disguises many strong points, although it has to be admitted that a Moore-era style finale and a floundering attempt to package in a halcyon villain aren’t among them.

The Bond series’ flirtations with contemporary relevance have a…

You stole my car, and you killed my dog!

John Wick (2014)
(SPOILERS) For their directorial debut, ex-stunt guys Chad Stahelski and David Leitch plump for the old reliable “hit man comes out of retirement” plotline, courtesy of screenwriter Derek Kolstad, and throw caution to the wind. The result, John Wick, is one of last year’s geek and critical favourites, a fired up actioner that revels in its genre tropes and captures that elusive lightning in a bottle; a Keanu Reeves movie in which he is perfectly cast.

That said, some of the raves have probably gone slightly overboard. This is effective, silly, and enormous fun in its own hyper-violent way, but Stahelski and Leitch haven’t announced themselves stylistically so much as plastered the screen with ultra-violence and precision choreography. They have a bit of a way to go before they’re masters of their domain, and they most definitely need to stint on their seemingly insatiable appetite for a metalhead soundtrack. This kind of bludgeoning choice serves to undercut the action a…