LULU by John Linton Roberson (c) 2012.
I Didn't Write That!
14 July 2011
  Mervyn Peake's "Gormenghast" (BBC, 2000 and Radio 4, 2011), and Rupert Murdoch

Below, the complete BBC adaptation from over a decade ago of the allegorical, satirical postwar fantasy classic by Mervyn Peake, starring a really astounding Jonathan Rhys-Myers as Steerpike, the Machiavellian social-climbing villain--but also, depending on how you look at it, the protagonist--of the piece. This is Rhys-Myers at his peak, so to speak, like Clockwork Orange's Alex reborn.

An interesting thing especially to look at and compare to the dynamic playing out in the UK with Murdoch, who with his son has been served a summons in person today by Parliament. His career can be argued to have been built on breaking deference to the traditional establishment, by humiliating the Royals. While also breaking unions, ruining British society and culture, and of course making a fat wad of cash on it.

And oh, apparently establishing a private blackmail security state of his own. This is an interesting and new thing in history. Under some circumstances you might think this is a good thing, to harm the powers that be. But it's being done by someone who wants to suck dry the brains of the whole nation. Just for himself, not for any ideal of freedom or choice.

The thing is, to break those things is in some ways to break Britain. Britain is its rituals or it's just the 51st state of America. It doesn't ever seem to hold. That's kind of what Gormenghast is about. It's an odd work. Normally I dislike fantasy outside comics(and I'm choosy even then--we have to be talking about Russell or Vess or someone like that), but Mervyn Peake, also a great artist and incidentally, the first British soldier to walk into Belsen, was a very different sort of cat than Tolkien(who I've disliked since I was 10). His work is very akin to the early Elric stuff by Michael Moorcock, which is really more about the death of Britain's empire than anything else.

Gormenghast isn't fantasy in the way people think of it. No mythical beasts, no magic. It's mostly about social ritual and cultura continuity driven to mad extremes, and how something so brittle can break very easily when the right little bastard cracks it.

In some ways it is to, say, Lord of the Rings what Ron Moore's Galactica was to Star Trek. More grounded, less about spectacle, and a lot of allegory. Gormenghast is really about lush, surreal descriptions that bring you into a place whose every minute is defined by endless ritual. Which drives its leaders mad.

Steerpike is a boy from the kitchens(the worst place to be) who somehow does the unthinkable--rises above his class, through flattery, lies, concealment, kidnapping, and rumors, to become, in fact, the master of rituals(the most powerful position), all of which is presented as something unnatural, like a disease advancing. And then the system vomits up the disease. I am no fan of the class system, but if it destroys a Murdoch it can't be all bad.

It's all very strange and beautiful.

Anyway, here you go. Enjoy, if you haven't seen it. Some of the digital looks a bit cheesy now, but look at it more as the hyper/surreality of Magritte. And here too is a Radio 4 adaptation.



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