On Mervyn Peake’s Ghormenghast

In March 2017amongst my watching of old videos was an unexpected pleasure, a viewing of Ghormenghast by Mervyn Peake. The reason to mention it,and recommend it, is due to what? … the sets, the actors, the general idea of ghastliness? Some of the actors, and wonderful performances they all give, are: Stephen Fry, Christopher Lee, Warren Mitchell, Zoe Wanamaker, Martin Clunes, Spike Milligan, Eric Sykes, Mark Williams.

The actors in Ghormenghast are a mini-who’s-who of the UK acting world. But that’s not the only reason to watch Ghormenghast. The entire Ghormenghast world needs to be seen to be appreciated, and well, I read the three Ghormenghast novels by Mervyn Peake in the 1970s.

Memorable it was, for vague memories of satire about mouldering piles of old stone architecture, decaying aristocracy, things of the past, the pointlessness of human affairs. Ghormenghast in the novels and film is the home of the just-born Titus Groan, the 77th Earl of Groan, who comes from just the kind of lineage of Groaners you’d expect to be living in such a run-down old castle, it’s all simply appalling.

In the movie version the sets are remarkable, while the action is about decaying aristocracy visited by an intelligent-but-feral kitchen hand, ruthlessness itself, who has escaped from the castle kitchens and becomes Chancellor of the Earldom, but is hardly happy.

Then comes a flood to add more chaos to the sets; you might say, a fearsome case of suddenly rising damp. It’s hard to convey how dreadfully depressing-funny it all is. Suffice to say, highly recommended. It’s a BBC Worldwide release dated 2001, a two-disk set.

Author: Dan Byrnes

Dan Byrnes is an Australian poet, writer, historian, a one-time journalist in Tamworth NSW Australia (or, Country Music Capital, Australia). Born in Sydney in 1948, meaning in late 2018 he is aged 70! He is deeply interested in modern Australian history (since 1788), literature, poetry and music. He had a normal high school education plus several stints at university, ending with a double major in History/Psychology, then with an Honours degree in History. Of late, and as he gets older - in 2019 he will be 71 - he spends time compiling and recompiling old work, adding to this blog, and wondering deeply with the history of Australia since 1788, a relatively new country, which received up to 162,000 convicts from Britain, why there is such apathy to maritime history in general and in particular, such apathy to the question: who owned/insured the convict ships?

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