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July 12, 2012

Nostalgia corner: Casting The Runes (1979)

Posted on July 12, 2012 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Casting The Runes

Since we've been talking a bit about the BBC's Ghost Stories for Christmas this week, it seems appropriate to have a look at 'the one that (almost) got away': ITV Playhouse's adaptation of MR James' Casting The Runes.

Virtually all the BBC Ghost Stories for Christmas were adaptations of short stories by James. Only 1976's The Signalman, written by Charles Dickens; 1977's Stigma, written by Clive Exton; and 1978's The Ice House, by John Bowen, deviated from this tradition. However, this wasn't because the producers had run out James stories to adapt - far from it, since BBC4 went on to adapt James' View From A Hill and Number 13 in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

In fact, just as the BBC was winding up its annual Ghost Stories for Christmas, ITV's ITV Playhouse anthology series chose to get two of its rival's contributors, writer Clive Exton and director Lawrence Gordon Clark, to adapt James's Casting The Runes. This wasn't the first time ITV had adapted James or even Casting The Runes: there had been four black-and-white productions made of James stories between 1966 and 1968, including Casting The Runes, which have now been virtually lost (although some parts do remain of the adaptation of Casting The Runes), and it had adapted Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance for schools in 1975. But unlike those previous adaptations and those of the BBC, which had all been period pieces, this was a modernisation and extension of James' original story.

Starring Just Good Friends' Jan Francis and Children of the Stones' Iain Cuthbertson, Casting The Runes took James' tale of a covert, supernatural battle between a man and an outraged mage who'd received a bad review from him and transposed it to a modern day conflict between a TV journalist (Francis) and a notorious self-styled Aleister Crowley-like figure (Cutherbertson), outraged at being mocked by one of her documentaries.

Most of the features of the original story remain, from the Satanic curse secretly passed to Francis when she least expects it to the demise of a previous critic thanks to the curse a few years earlier, although the narrative is more linear and more eventful than James' original. While lacking the quiet, haunting atmosphere of the BBC adaptations that perhaps only age, the empty countryside and a lack of people can bring, the ITV Playhouse version overcomes this by effectively using visual and sound effects - although Cutherbertson's costuming and performance add an element of unwanted comedy to the proceedings.

Strangely, despite ITV Playhouse running for another five years, there were no more adaptations of James's stories by the series - or by any other series - until Janice Hadlow revived the format for BBC4 and continued it once she moved to BBC2. Hopefully, now that BBC4's drama budget is being handed over to BBC2, we'll get another one this year.

If not, as in 1978, there's now a golden opportunity for ITV to revive the tradition. Are you listening, Peter Fincham?

The full thing's not available on YouTube, although Network DVD have very kindly released it on DVD (as a bonus, you get that adaptation of Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance as well), but here's a trailer for it:

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July 11, 2012

The Wednesday Play: Abigail's Party (1977)

Posted on July 11, 2012 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Abigail's Party

So far, most of the plays in this strand have been worthy, important and serious. But there used to be a strong tradition of comedy plays within most of British TV's anthology series - there was even a Comedy Playhouse anthology series that gave birth to the likes of Steptoe and Son, Till Death Us Do Part, All Gas and Gaiters, The Liver Birds, Are You Being Served? and Last of the Summer Wine.

But Play For Today, the BBC's main play series, aired a number of important comedy plays from no less a director than Mike Leigh, the man behind the award-winning Naked, Secret & Lies, Vera Drake, Career Girls and Life is Sweet. But despite having that kind of a CV in the film industry, arguably he is still best known for two of his six Plays For Today: Nuts in May and this week's Wednesday Play, Abigail's Party.

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July 10, 2012

Review: Perception (TNT) 1x1

Posted on July 10, 2012 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Perception

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, TNT
In the UK: Not yet acquired, but you can bet Alibi will pick it up

There's a great big swinging pendulum off in the TV universe somewhere that mysteriously dictates who solves crimes on tele. First it was talented amateurs, then it was private detectives, then it was the police and now, it seems, the pendulum has swung back to talented amateurs again.

See, the police have to follow rules and if they don't, there are all kinds of political problems - either that or your show is escapist enough that people are prepared to suspend their disbelief. But if you have an amateur consultant, they can do whatever they like, more or less.

They can also have all kinds of personality quirks that probably would count against them in an institution like the police. Of course, in a crowded televisual landscape, or even on a crowded network like TNT, which already has the likes of Southland and Rizzoli & Isles, there's something of an arms race in personality quirks as shows try to grab the viewers' attention and distinguish themselves from the competition.

Now Perception takes us to Defcon 2 in the quirks arm race with neuroscientist, university professor and FBI consultant Dr Daniel Pierce (Will and Grace's Eric McCormack), who trumps The Mentalist, Psych, Lie To Me and practically every other amateur detective yet to grace our screens. Because Pierce goes into territory even Raines feared to tread: he's a schizophrenic who refuses to take his meds so a lot of the time, when he's talking to suspects, the suspects aren't always there - although they have a lot to say for themselves.

Here's a trailer:

Continue reading "Review: Perception (TNT) 1x1"

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