Since its publication at the end of World War II, Mervyn Peake's masterpiece, The Gormenghast Novels," has stood unchallenged as one of English literature's most extraordinary flight of imagination. Its themes of treachery... more », decay, madness and honor have come to be regarded as a metaphor for the fall of an empire, the passing of an age, and the rise of fascism. The glorious castle of Gormenghast is home to the ancient family of Groan, where nothing has changed for thousands of years. The dynasty is threatened by the charming and evil kitchem-boy, Steerpike. With the birth of a new heir, Titus Groan, Steerpike begins his ruthless ascent to power. As he charms, outwits and terrorizes the castle's inhabitants, only the young and timid Earl of Groan, Titus, stands in Steerpike's way. Who will ultimately rule Gormenghast?« less
We have here a work of fantasy, which has often been praised as more accomplished than Lord of the Rings. It is the story of the fall of an empire, albeit a decaying gothic, pseudo-medieval one. This miniseries covers the first two books of the series, which follow the life course, from a young age, of Titus Groan, and the horrific almost fatalistic tragedies which consecutively befall his tortured existence.
This production runs rampant with British acting royalty. They all do a fantastic job bringing each singular character to life. I quite enjoyed actress Neve McIntosh's (who is better known these days as Madame Vastra on Doctor Who) portrayal of Lady Fuchsia Groan. And Ian Richardson steals the show in the dissolution of the Earl, and his descent into madness, which is truly heartrending to watch.
Gormenghast is it's own bizarre tale. There's nothing quite like it out there. It defies logic and classification. And indeed, it isn't the sort of thing you'll want to watch if your mood needs brightening. The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth this is not. In 2017, it was announced that Neil Gaiman and Akiva Goldsman would adapt the trilogy into a television series.
At last--a worthy adaptation of the Peake novels
Jay Dickson | Portland, OR | 06/11/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I've seen this in England, and I can faithfully vouch for the fact that yes, the first two volumes of Mervyn Peake's masterpiece trilogy have finally been accorded their due on the screen. I should start by warning fans of the novels that the Gormenghast realized here is much prettier than you would expect; perhaps the film's producers were worried that a vision of the giant castle and its environs as decayed and yellowed as Peake imagined might be too offputting to anyone but fans of the novels? As a result, Gormenghast is slightly too pretty at times to convey the sense of Gothic dissolution Peake intended: even the campsite of the carvers seems gussied up in pretty green decor. And in the central role of Steerpike Jonathan Rhys-Meyers looks smashing and works hard, but fails to turn in the truly bravura performance the part requires (in part because he lacks tremendous physical presence, despite his sneering beauty).
On the other hand, so much is given to us in this version that it would be churlish to complain. Celia Imrie steals the show as the brutally abstract and terrifyingly towering Countess of Groan: she has both the presence and the ability to play the role. The great Fiona Shaw transforms herself exactly into Peake's sketches of Irma Prunesquallor, and Zoe Wanamaker and Lynsey Baxter do something very original and believable as Titus's half-witted and murderous aunts. The special effects are at times jawdropping, and at times the director allows for the off-kilter camera angles--and yes, even the Gothic atmnosphere otherwise missing--that brings you back to Peake's original vision (the library sequence is particularly smashing). This is the kind of adaptation that, even with its few flaws, one would never have dared hope to have seen."
Great rendition of the Gormenghast series
S. Marzioli | USA | 05/16/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I first heard about Gormenghast when I was watching Red Dwarf on BBC America. During the commercials, they played a long trailer which showed elaborate costumes, interesting backgrounds (some obviously computer generated), and an odd assortment of characters. I got the impression that it was some sort of fairy tale. Best of all, it boasted two of my favorite actors, Christopher Lee and Stephen Fry. The show came on every Saturday, and I watched each hour or so segment every week. The story revolves around an old castle called Gormenghast. The people themselves are born into caste systems, and adhere to the strict rules and rituals of the Kingdom. Nothing changes; the culture won't let it. That is, until Steerpike, a young kitchen hand, grows tired of the kitchen life and denounces his caste. His goal, to seek for better things, and for him better things can only mean greater power.Now, after the reading the books, I was all the more impresed with the BBC rendition. While the series had to cut out a lot of scenes, as the trilogy itself is huge, they were very prudent with their cuts. While they couldn't capture the absurdity and creative flair in its entirety, they also didn't rehash Mervyn Peake (the author's) tendency towards pointless, self-indulgent waste (i.e. cliche romance scenes/dialogue), and occasional repitition (i.e. conversations and thoughts of characters). However, the acting was superb, the costumes elegant, and the plot as unique as ever. Above all is Jonathan Rhys-Meyer (Steerpike), and Christopher Lee (Flay). Also, Zoe Wanamaker and Lynsey Baxter did a superb job playing the mad twin sisters(and stroke victims) Cora and Clarice Groan. Gormenghast runs miles around anything America produces (i.e. Noah's Ark, The Tenth Kingdom), and deserves, despite its minor flaws (even those from nitpicky Peake fans), nothing short of 5 stars."
An unsettling and captivating dark fantasy
Zack Davisson | Seattle, WA, USA | 05/28/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Gormenghast" is an odd series, a little too odd at first glance. I have never read the books, and didn't even know that a "Gormenghast" series existed when I watched it. I just thought it looked like an interesting fantasy series, so I gave it a try.It was very surprising, and I had to watch the first episode twice before I got a feel for the series and could get captivated by its peculiar meter and character. However, when you get sucked in it is as complete a world as "Labyrinth," "Legend" or any other such darkly gothic fairy tale kingdoms. The endless rituals, the conflicting costumes, the affected accents and speeches all combine to create a disturbing reality of crumbling decadence and a society that has run its course, aching for change and new blood.The amazing actors in this series, many with an impressive fantasy film pedigree, are what pull you in, and force you to believe in the topsy-turvy kingdom. Christopher Lee ("Lord of the Rings"/"Star Wars"/"Dracula"/Too many to name...) brings you home right away as the brutish but loyal Flay. It is interesting to see him play such a sympathetic and nobel character, after watching him is so many villain roles. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers ("Bend it Like Beckam," "Titus") is perfect as the charming anarchist Steerpike. who plays a necessary role as a bloody catalyst for change. Zoe Wanamaker ("Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone") and her sister Lynsey Baxter play the bizarre twins perfectly, with an unsettling atmosphere each time they are on screen. Ian Richardson, who comes with an impressive Shakespear resume, portrays the descent into madness of the Earl of Gormenghast, as crumbling as his realm.The BBC again proves that they know how to make quality programs, allowing for a slow wicked pace and a weird mood along with bright costumes and talented actors. I highly recomend "Gormneghast," but give yourself some time to get into it. You might have to watch the first episode twice like I did."
Terrible DVD transfer of beautiful series
Peter Headland | San Mateo, CA United States | 09/26/2007
(1 out of 5 stars)
"I just received the new NTSC "widescreen" DVD version of Gormenghast (ISBN 1419838172). It is the worst DVD transfer I have seen. The original series was shot in widescreem (1.66:1). The Region 2 PAL version (which I also have) shows the full picture full screen (on a widescreen TV) with excellent sharpness and detail. The new NSTC version I am describing in this review is cropped heavily and has black borders on all four sides; it is also as fuzzy as a cheap VHS tape.
Bottom line - do not waste your money on this new DVD version."