Skip to main content

The force was in the plates. It’s in us now. Isn’t it?

The Owl Service
Episode Five

While some have bemoaned the info-dump recaps, they repeatedly provide details that I’d either missed or Garner or Plummer (or both) intended to remain oblique. There’s something to be said for such an approach as the gist of the legend coming to life is repeatedly reinforced (and that’s the main thing). But, on occasions, Plummer’s choices prove distracting. The “Four days later” caption is designed to show that Alison was forced to snub Gwyn, but her subsequent panic over being at the time and place she agreed to meet him initially caught me off guard. The way Plummer stages the scene it at first appears to be about something else entirely and in this case I think the often fractured editing works against the storytelling.


The consequences of extending the serial from seven episodes to eight have become rather evident around the midpoint. Both Four and Five are treading water for much of the time, and not a whole lot happens. A significant portion of Five is devoted to Alison and Gwyn climbing the mountain. Unfortunately, this again reinforces Holden’s shortcomings as an actor; if he’s Garner’s stand-in, as the character who feels the tug between his background and the education that lifts him from it, Holden is unable to make Gwyn effectively sympathetic. Wallis’ performance is so much better that, despite Roger being an increasingly obnoxious prig, we’d rather see him. There’s a Billy Liar quality to a line like “I’ve got to get out of this place. There’s nothing here but sheep” but it’s designed to indicate the mounting claustrophobia the trio are feeling (Roger and Gwyn in particular) as they rehearse age-old roles.


The “soaking the Saxon” scene is amusing (Gwyn pulls the wool over Alison’s eyes with a tall story about sheep with one leg shorter than the other, and the stilts that are made for them), and Hills is as ever in a class above her young co-stars. But there isn’t much sizzle to Gwyn and Alison’s tryst as Holden’s too conscious of hitting his marks. We’re also treated to a bit of exposition that the ITV continuity announcer must have been relieved to finally hear (“The force was in the plates. It’s in us now. Isn’t it? Isn’t that why the pattern’s gone?”)


Garner works hard to parallel Gwyn and Roger; both are experiencing difficulties for different reasons, and as the latter part of the serial progresses they will mirror each other at different points in both the suffering and the unkindness that they show. Huw’s insecurity over his Welsh accent is commented upon (he has bought elocution records; “I’m a Taff, aren’t I?”) while Alison notes that Roger’s problems stem from the departure of his mother (she walked out on Roger and Clive, and Margaret nicknames her “The Birmingham Belle”). Each will use this knowledge as a stick to beat the other with (and Alison provides the fuel in both instances).


Roger is on the fringes of the episode, appropriately as when we see him he’s in a state of discomposure. At one point he is sat in the corner of the cellar, weeping uncontrollably. Wallis is a mannered performer but he makes the scene affecting, and there’s sufficient interior life that we understand why he has assumed the adversarial position in respect of the legend and the photos (“I changed my mind. I tore them up”); he’s been isolated by the canoodling between Gwyn and Alison so it’s only natural that he should choose to disagree with their premise. 



For whatever reason, any suggestion of Roger having a romantic attraction to Alison is soft-pedalled (it can’t be down to their step-relationship, can it?) As a result, the incarnated iconography of the legend is slightly undermined; he’s just got the hump. If anything, you wonder more at Clive’s doting over his new stepdaughter than countenance that Roger has any serious longings for her.


The main development is Gwyn making the connection between Uncle Bertram and Nancy. We also see Gwyn throwing a “spear” at the stable roof (is this the one he aims at Roger in an earlier episode?), in an echo of the tale. Which firmly identifies Huw as Llew. There’s a slight problem with the absence of any character signifiers of Roger as Gronw Pebr, aside from his “nobility”. Indeed, Huw’s tampering with Bertram’s brakes has more in common with the plot to kill Llew in the legend than justice served on the lord who has stolen his love; I guess it’s a pick-and-choose myth.  


The return of the scratching from the opening episodes accompanies the revelation of a locked stable door, from which the sounds emanate.  While the tone of the serial is consistently portentous, the supernatural in the novel felt much more persistent than it does in the TV version (I might reconsider that, should I revisit the book). Certainly, around this point, the TV series is a domestic drama with the hint of an occult backdrop, whereas the book was infused with the magical.

Comments

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…

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.

Never mind. You may be losing a carriage, but he’ll be gaining a bomb.

The Avengers 5.13: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station
Continuing a strong mid-season run, Brian Clemens rejigs one of the dissenting (and departing) Roger Marshall's scripts (hence "Brian Sheriff") and follows in the steps of the previous season's The Girl from Auntie by adding a topical-twist title (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum came out a year earlier). If this is one of those stories where you know from the first who's doing what to whom, the actual mechanism for the doing is a strong and engaging one, and it's pepped considerably by a supporting cast including one John Laurie (2.11: Death of a Great Dane, 3.2: Brief for Murder).

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

Your honor, with all due respect: if you're going to try my case for me, I wish you wouldn't lose it.

The Verdict (1982)
(SPOILERS) Sidney Lumet’s return to the legal arena, with results every bit as compelling as 12 Angry Men a quarter of a century earlier. This time the focus is on the lawyer, in the form of Paul Newman’s washed-up ambulance chaser Frank Galvin, given a case that finally matters to him. In less capable hands, The Verdict could easily have resorted to a punch-the-air piece of Hollywood cheese, but, thanks to Lumet’s earthy instincts and a sharp, unsentimental screenplay from David Mamet, this redemption tale is one of the genre’s very best.

And it could easily have been otherwise. The Verdict went through several line-ups of writer, director and lead, before reverting to Mamet’s original screenplay. There was Arthur Hiller, who didn’t like the script. Robert Redford, who didn’t like the subsequent Jay Presson Allen script and brought in James Bridges (Redford didn’t like that either). Finally, the producers got the hump with the luxuriantly golden-haired star for meetin…

The simple fact is, your killer is in your midst. Your killer is one of you.

The Avengers 5.12: The Superlative Seven
I’ve always rather liked this one, basic as it is in premise. If the title consciously evokes The Magnificent Seven, to flippant effect, the content is Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, but played out with titans of their respective crafts – including John Steed, naturally – encountering diminishing returns. It also boasts a cast of soon-to-be-famous types (Charlotte Rampling, Brian Blessed, Donald Sutherland), and the return of one John Hollis (2.16: Warlock, 4.7: The Cybernauts). Kanwitch ROCKS!

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.

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
(SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison.

Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War, Infinity Wars I & II, Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok. It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions (Iron Man II), but there are points in Age of Ultron where it becomes distractingly so. …

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…