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Gormenghast


 Analyze a Scene
The Library BurnsFlay v. SwelterAt the Graveyard of the Select Retainers


Estelle Daniel, producer:
Andy Wilson has made something of a reputation in Hollywood for spectacularly conceived action sequences, and his storyboards for Gormenghast provided the central pillar for the development of the program and the bible for how it was all to be realized. He drew round his Amex card to create endless windows, and filled them with little stick figures, showing how each sequence would be created, shot by shot... A storyboard artist drew up the final versions. They were dissected and broken down by the team, ending up on blackboards in the studio, and became the basis for the hundreds of questions Wilson was bombarded with during the preparation. They are the living proof and the nuts and bolts explanation of How Andy Did It.

Andy Wilson, director:
I had to remember what I felt the first time I read [the Gormenghast books], and what pictures I saw in my mind then. You can't, as a director, create anybody else's image. You have to create your own. I said to myself, "Look, remember the first time you read it. How did it feel?" Because I'm British and because I'm the age I am and because of the influences that I've had, European surrealism means quite a lot to me. So the dark side of things is what comes out.

I am a different person now to when I was fifteen, but I tried to approach it with a great deal of innocence. I wanted it to be as innocent as I think it was when Peake wrote it. Obviously he had his influences, but when I first read it I didn't feel that it was particularly about Hitler or particularly about Mussolini or particularly about any one country. I thought it was about universals, about love and death and romance and power and evil and responsibility. The responsibility of young Titus to take over the reigns of power and deal with this evil in the midst of Gormenghast. I felt that very strongly and I think that was a very fifteen-year-old feeling.

You start seeing Gormenghast everywhere in everybody and everything. Peake was writing it to entertain people, and entertainment was more verbal then. You know, I'm an enormous fan of Beckett and Pinter, and I think economy of word in our visual and media culture is absolutely right. There's so many words out there, all day long they're babbling on. If you really want to have import you have to condense. But that wasn't the experience that Peake was living.

I would advise anyone who loves the series to go out and read the third book in the trilogy, Titus Alone. It's wonderful, the visual imagery is absolutely wonderful. And it was a major influence on people like Aldous Huxley and science fiction writers like Michael Moorcock and J.G. Ballard, an immense influence. It's thought of very highly; it can be very difficult for a general reader.

Gormenghast is not a naturalistic piece. Like in Alice in Wonderland, you know, the White Rabbit is the White Rabbit. The White Rabbit does not have a motivation. So in terms of method and naturalistic performance and naturalistic film, there's no safety net to be had from giving the White Rabbit a motivation. As an actor, you have to become the White Rabbit. Even if you don't believe that White Rabbits exist and wear little watches, as an actor your only option is to be the White Rabbit. You cannot say to your director, "What's my motivation here?" The director will say, "Well, you're the goddamn White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. Hop!"

Similarly, in Gormenghast, there's relatively little motivation in the characters because it's not a naturalistic drama of emotional motivation. You know, the Queen has to be the Queen. She has to say the things that she says. Barquentine has to be exceptionally angry because if you had control of a crumbling dynasty like that every day of your life and had to read those stupid books, you would be angry. Life is a sequence of irritants for most people. You are what you are, there's no get-out clause, you know. It's a tradition of surrealist character formation.

At the first read-through I said to the assembled cast, "Look, Gormenghast just is. Don't think about it, just do it, and see what comes out the other end. Total belief is required." There's no black or white, there's no shading, you just have to be the angriest man in the world or the queen or the reluctant prince or the evil villain. They're not only trapped in it but they're also freed by it as actors.

For more about Andy Wilson, visit
Crew bios: Andy Wilson, director


Some text excerpts courtesy of HarperCollins Entertainment, The Art of Gormenghast by Estelle Daniel (2000)


 Analyze a Scene:
The Library Burns | Flay v. Swelter | Graveyard of the Select Retainers

 Analyze a Scene | Costume Design | Set Design | Producer's Diary

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Behind the Scenes Analyze a Scene Costume Design Set Design Producer's Diary Scene 1: The Library Burns Scene 2: Flay v. Swelter Scene 3: At the Graveyard of the Select Retainers