Skip to main content

You know what a scrounger is, my dear?

The Box of Delights
4: The Spider in the Web


The pace picks up again in the fourth episode, including a ream of exposition expertly delivered by Stephens. Before that, there’s the little matter of the treacherous weir to deal with. Woo-hoo! This is as typically Sunday Children’s Classic looking as the serial gets (well, that and some of the journey-through-time scenery in the following installment). What keeps it from becoming too twee is the presence of jovial antagonists (“Nothing like children for leading one a dance, what?”)


Returned to full size and back at the freshly burglarised Seekings. Kay launches into a remonstration of Ellen for deserting the house (bloody working class servant types, eh? They need thirteen year olds to keep them in line!). The poor woman is only recovering from the sick trick used to get her to leave (that her mother was terribly ill). 


The return of Maria finds Dukes yet again commanding attention (“I… was scrobbled!”) Unlike her peers, she isn’t the type to get upset or frightened (“I knew I shouldn’t have gone without a pistol!”).


Sylvia: You know what a scrounger is, my dear? We put you in it, and it has a thing that goes round and round. That is the scrounger. And pretty soon you come out as dog biscuit!

The flashback to Maria’s imprisonment by Abner’s gang mostly revolves around an effective cell set, shot at high angles. Abner and Sylvia introduce themselves from hatches at the sides. Maria’s refusal to join forces with this “pretty shady lot” is marked out by the unswerving insults she piles at Sylvia (“It can’t be too nice, or it wouldn’t have you in it”, says Maria of the gang). The scene is also noteworthy for Sylvia’s “Put her in the scrounger!” moment, as she explains how Maria may soon end up as dog food (those dreadful adults!) 


Rye knows just how conjure up menace; the cell goes dark, then the door opens and (Charles) enters putting a sack over Maria’s head. To underline that none of this has fazed Maria in the slightest, she summarises her adventure with “Well I’m here now, and I didn’t join their gang. What’s for dessert?


For some reason, Kay chooses to bring Peter along with him to investigate Abner’s masquerade as the head of Chesters Theological College (over at Chester Hills; actually Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire). Aside from his colourful vernacular (more “Purple pims” and now a “Gives me the fantods!”) Peter proves a resolutely unresourceful companion, and promptly gets himself captured when they split up (for which another sack is employed). 


There’s further indication that Kay knows the ways of the natural world, although this time in a less “nature spirit” manner. He makes light of Peter’s concern over discovery; there are clearly no gamekeepers about as, if there were, they would see signs of pheasants, and dead stoats and weasels.


Charles: I can feel the corpuscles coursing through my veins.
Abner: I wouldn’t have thought so.

Abner’s failure to hold his roguish crew in check may be his greatest failing; if not for his displays of the dark arts in the final episode, we might suspect his abilities at all. Instead of acting decisively or appointing reliable henchman, he persists with Charles and Joe and, most damagingly, continues to be advised by Sylvia. So he reluctantly takes a swim with Charles, who is none to good at disguising his canoodling behaviour (“Oh, jolly good sort old Sylvia… er Mrs Brown”). 



Perhaps Abner believes Charles’ fey, slightly campy manner signals him out as posing no real threat. Full respect to Stephens (and his beer jacket) for braving what looks like a very chilly lake. Poor old Chubby Joe; it appears that, when not scrobbling, he is ascribed menial tasks such as raking up leaves (clad in a monk’s habit).


Structurally, it is evident that what works on the page isn’t necessarily quite so effective on screen. Kay returns home to report Peter’s capture, makes yet another call on the police (this time with Maria), and then returns to Chesters. This serves to fill us in on some significant details (a newspaper bears the legend “Bishop of Tatchester kidnapped”) and confirms the abduction of Caroline Louisa (“She left two days ago to come home”) but it also diminishes the urgency of the situation. Still, Maria’s response to the Inspector’s blithe lack of concern is priceless; “Stupid man. Talking to Abner Brown himself”).


Fortunately, it's time for another of Kay’s hallucinogenic dreams; it appears that this time he needs no chemical inducement to trip-out. Yet again, he sees a vision of the Old Lady morphing into Caroline Louisa. We also see a watery vision of Rat, and his governess’ cry of “Kay!” before a wolf-headed figure pulls her away from her bedroom window (very suggestive, really). Regarding the Caroline Louisa/Old Lady connection, it occurs to me that they share scenes in the final episode thus making their link with each other even more oblique.



The final portion of the episode finds Kay, in miniature, back at the College and eavesdropping on Abner and Joe. Abner, using his globe/monitoring device, is listening to his chubby stooge complaining. Why do they need to get their hands on this perishing box; scrobbling clergy is “plain foolishness”. Abner would have maximum respect if he singularly did for Joe at this point, but he unwisely displays his own brand of foolishness by (apparently) capitulating to Joe’s suggestion that “If I knew why” he might be on board with the scheme.


The conversation further highlights that Abner is surrounded by idiots, as the vacuous Joe suggests facile means of extracting the truth from Cole; “Just threaten him a bit or using itching powder to keep him awake”. But, to be fair to Joe, at the start of the next episode his straightforward mind will hit on the truth of matters in a way Abner’s labyrinthine cerebrum cannot. Abner brings Joe, Kay, and the audience, up to speed on the relationship between Cole Hawlings and Arnold of Todi.


We learn that Arnold was a philosopher in the Middle Ages, back when a philosopher studied many things including magic. He encountered one Ramon Lully, who was also a philosopher in the Middle Ages and not “the chap who used to do the box trick down at Brixton Music Hall” at all. Lully travelled Spain, France and Italy on his quest, and offered his elixir of life to Todi in exchange for Arnold’s magic powers “which were contained in the box”.  However, soon after that, Arnold of Todi disappeared. Abner informs Joe that, according to legend, Arnold went into the past by means of the box but could not get out again. Setting up Kay’s journey in the next episode, it appears that one cannot take the box on travels into the past;  you enter at own risk and must find your own way out”.


Abner is oblique concerning whether or not Lully thieved the box. As Abner puts it, “There are people who believe that Ramon Lully got the box after Arnold went into the past without it”. And, in episode five, Arnold expresses no ill will concerning Lully’s actions. But it does imply a different side to the Cole we see, one for whom opportunism and undirected knowledge rather than wisdom may have been the order of the day.


And so comes the dramatic pay off, and the best cliffhanger out of the five. This is one that advances the plot by way of revelation, rather than ending on an action beat. Abner draws Joe’s attention to the picture of Lully in a dusty old tome;  You see who it is, don’t you?” Lully gradually becomes wrinkled and whiskery before Joe’s eyes and realisation dawns (lest we had not already reached such a point ourselves);


Joe: It’s him! It’s the old Punch and Judy Man! But he must be five… 700 years old!


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…

Move away from the jams.

Aladdin (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was never overly enamoured by the early ‘90s renaissance of Disney animation, so the raves over Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin left me fairly unphased. On the plus side, that means I came to this live action version fairly fresh (prince); not quite a whole new world but sufficiently unversed in the legend to appreciate it as its own thing. And for the most part, Aladdin can be considered a moderate success. There may not be a whole lot of competition for that crown (I’d give the prize to Pete’s Dragon, except that it was always part-live action), but this one sits fairly comfortably in the lead.

You're reading a comic book? What are you, retarded?

Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut (2009)
(SPOILERS) It’s a decade since the holy grail of comic books finally fought through decades of development hell to land on the big screen, via Zach Snyder’s faithful but not faithful enough for the devoted adaptation. Many then held the director’s skills with a much more open mind than they do now – following the ravages he has inflicted on the DCEU – coming as he was off the back of the well-received 300. Many subsequently held that his Watchmen, while visually impressive, had entirely missed the point (not least in some of its stylistic and aesthetic choices). I wouldn’t go that far – indeed, for a director whose bombastic approach is often only a few notches down from Michael Bay (who was, alarmingly, also considered to direct at one point), there are sequences in Watchmen that show tremendous sensitivity – but it’s certainly the case that, even or especially in its Ultimate Cut form and for all the furore the change to the end of the story provoked,…

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

I’d kill you too, Keanu. I’d kill you just for fun, even if I didn’t have to.

Always Be My Maybe (2019)
(SPOILERS) The pun-tastic title of this Netflix romcom is a fair indication of its affably undemanding attributes. An unapologetic riff on When Harry Met Sally, wherein childhood friends rather than college attendees finally agree the best thing to be is together, it’s resolutely determined to cover no new ground, all the way through to its positive compromise finale. That’s never a barrier to a good romcom, though – at their best, their charm is down to ploughing familiar furrows. Always Be My Maybe’s problem is that, decent comedy performers though the two leads may be – and co-writers with Michael Golamco – you don’t really care whether they get together or not. Which isn’t like When Harry Met Sally at all.

Bleach smells like bleach.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)
(SPOILERS) I’d like to be able to say it was beyond me how Clint’s misery-porn fest hoodwinked critics and the Academy alike, leading to his second Best Picture and Director double Oscar win. Such feting would naturally lead you to assume Million Dollar Baby was in the same league as Unforgiven, when it really has more in common with The Mule, only the latter is likeably lightweight and nonchalant in its aspirations. This picture has buckled beneath the burden of self-appointed weighty themes and profound musings, which only serve to highlight how crass and manipulative it is.

What you do is very baller. You're very anarchist.

Lady Bird (2017)
(SPOILERS) You can see the Noah Baumbach influence on Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, with whom she collaborated on Frances Ha; an intimate, lo-fi, post-Woody Allen (as in, post-feted, respected Woody Allen) dramedy canvas that has traditionally been the New Yorker’s milieu. But as an adopted, spiritual New Yorker, I suspect Gerwig honourably qualifies, even as Lady Bird is a love letter/ nostalgia trip to her home city of Sacramento.

It could have been an accident. He decided to sip a surreptitious sup and slipped. Splash!

4.10 A Surfeit of H20
A great episode title (definitely one of the series’ top ten) with a storyline boasting all the necessary ingredients (strange deaths in a small village, eccentric supporting characters, Emma even utters the immortal “You diabolical mastermind, you!”), yet A Surfeit of H20 is unable to quite pull itself above the run of the mill.

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 should have mailed it to the Marx Brothers.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
When your hero(es) ride off into the sunset at the end of a film, it’s usually a pretty clear indication that a line is being drawn under their adventures. Sure, rumours surfaced during the ‘90s of various prospective screenplays for a fourth outing for the whip-cracking archeologist. But I’m dubious anyone really expected it to happen. There seemed to be a natural finality to Last Crusade that made the announcement of his 2007 return nostalgically welcome but otherwise unwarranted. That it turned out so tepid merely seemed like confirmation of what we already knew; Indy’s time was past.