First Episode - First Impressions


If you have never read the books, the following comments about the first episode of the BBC series contain one minor 'spoiler' concerning the plot.

Well, the first episode has come and gone. Time for some quick impressions. First, and most striking, it is all extraordinarily bright (even the Stone Lanes are brightly lit, which I might be inclined to object to). Once you get over the initial shock of this, though, it seems quite acceptable, and even in keeping with the book, which does not portray the whole castle as dark. The buildings, and the costumes of the servants and the Bright Carvers seem distinctly East European to me, rather than Chinese (which was supposedly the main source of inspiration for the designers).

The cast? Fuchsia, Steerpike, Sepulchrave, and Gertrude are spot on. Cora and Clarice are also excellent, but I am not sure about Warren Mitchell's portrayal of Barquentine, who he manages to make tetchy, but not the ferocious character whom almost everyone else is afraid of. John Sessions underplays Prunesquallor, and Fiona Shaw manages the remarkable feat of overplaying Irma (and may win the prize for the most irritating characterisation). June Brown actually seems almost as small as Nannie Slagg is supposed to be -- is she really small, or was some trickery involved here?

Flay and Swelter seem oddly uninteresting compared to the book, even though it is hard to fault the performances -- possibly for some reason the characters do not translate well onto the screen?

The script? Interesting. A few dodgy moments -- Steerpike's escape from the room where Flay imprisons him is effectively accidental, and sees him falling from the window to end up clinging Harold Lloyd-like to the hands of an enormous clock. A ludicrous moment which seemed rather out-of-key. The story of Keda and her two lovers has been side-stepped by making Keda already pregnant, though I managed to miss the full story there. Which is one other point about the script -- it is very fast. Presumably even with the plot compressions and four hours it has still proved difficult to cram everything in, with the result that events (and explanations) rush by very quickly. People who have never read the books may have trouble keeping up with what is happening. Shades of 'Dune', methinks.

Click here for my reactions to the second episode.

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