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The name of the castle, and the kingdom that it is located in, in the Gormenghast Trilogy. The seat of the Groans. The highest tower is the Tower of Flints. The South Wing houses the sisters Lady Cora and Lady Clarice. Fuschia Groan spends much of her time in the attic rooms. Swelter runs the kitchens. The Hall of the Bright Carvings is the home of the curator Rottcodd. Other places of note are the Great Library, the cat room, and the Cool Room.

The Book

Gormenghast is the second book in the Gormenghast Trilogy, and chronicles episodes from the childhood of Titus Groan. Steerpike continues on his murderous way up the zigurrat, until his treachery is discovered and he has to make a last stand against the now-adult Titus. As with Titus Groan, the book is filled with rich descriptive prose and vivid, skewed characters.

The TV Adaptation

In 1999, the BBC screened a television drama based on the first two books of the trilogy. The four forty minute episodes managed to follow the plot quite faithfully, and a number of the characters were perfectly cast and performed by some of the best British actors. The depiction of the locations in the story is sometimes a bit too brightly-coloured and a bit too obviously computer generated or matte painted, but some of the sets (such as the Cat Room, and Fuschia's attic) are uncannily well recreated. There are loads of little details seemingly put in as a nod to close readers of the books.

The Cast :

  • Fuschia - Neve McIntosh - Titus' sister is a key character in the book. In the show, she seems to be slightly too hysterical at times. Also, her accidental death is changed to a suicide, stupidly.
  • Steerpike - Johnathan Rhys Meyers - The villain. Meyers's performance was met with a lot of criticism from fans. He pulls off the brooding menace and callousness well enough, but very quickly descends into pantomime histrionics. The character Steerpike displays no external emotion in the book, even when he is attacked, insulted and spat upon. In the show, he prances around in almost every scene, with his thick affected Welsh accent. The producers' explanation for this is that if they had been faithful to the book, it would have made for boring television. They should have done the job properly or not at all in my opinion.
  • Flay - Christopher Lee - Excellent, Lee clearly has thoroughly read the books, and looks right too.
  • Nanny Slagg - Jude Brown (Dot from Eastenders) - More pantomime here, but again reasonably faithful to the book. (except her death, which is changed to a rather hokey poisoning. Why? She was supposed to be about 90 years old anyway...)
  • Titus Groan - (older) Andrew N. Robertson - Titus has a very small role in the series. Annoyingly, they make a number of abridgements and changes to his scenes. But the pivotal bits at the end are done OK.
  • Swelter - Richard Griffiths (Uncle Monty from Withnail & I) - Griffiths goes at this grotesque character with gusto, although possibly doesn't go far enough. His duel with Flay is somewhat changed from the book, and rather poorly executed.
  • Dr. Prunesquallor - John Sessions - Amazingly, Sessions isn't annoying in this role. Slightly under-utilised (the character has some brilliant, brilliant scenes and lines in the book)
  • Irma Prunesquallor - Fiona Shaw - possibly overdone, but the look is right. And the shreiking.
  • Lady Cora & Lady Clarice - Zoe Wanamaker and Lynsey Baxter - Totally, totally bang on. You genuinely feel sorry for their crappy treatment and grisly fate.
  • Sepulchrave (The Earl) - Ian Richardson (Sir Francis Urquart from House of Cards) - Another job well done. His depression and descent into insanity, while rather compressed, is almost totally faithful to the book (especially the breakfast scene - one of the highlights of the series)
  • Lady Gertrude - Celia Imrie - Hmm ... not quite right, but then not a cock-up of Steerpike proportions either.
  • Bellgrove - Stephen Fry - Another clear fan of the book, Fry is flanked by other comics in his short scenes. Hopefully a DVD version might restore more of this character? (Wishful thinking :)
  • The Headmaster (De'ath) - Spike Milligan - Wakes up. Falls asleep. Gets killed. The man is a genius.
  • Rottcodd - Windsor Davies - Unforgivably, the character is completely changed from his perfunctory role in the books, into a sorry excuse to shoehorn in Davies' character from It Ain't Half Hot Mum. Idiots.
  • Barquentine - Warren Mitchell (aka Alf Garnett) - Spot on. (interestingly, the show seems to combine Barquentine and Sourdust into one character, or at least never mention them by name...)

All in all, this is probably the best adaptation we're ever going to see outside of the hands of Terry Gilliam or someone of similar calibre. The casting is near-perfect - bar Steerpike - and the budget allows for all the major elements to be recreated in some manner. It could, perhaps with more time and a better director, have been better, but it could easily have been a lot worse. I reckon you should read the books first though, so as to get the full imaginational impact.


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