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Gormenghast


 The Producer's Diary
The following entries are taken from Estelle Daniel's book The Art of Gormenghast: The Making of a Television Fantasy, published by HarperCollins Entertainment (2000), and distributed in the United States by Trafalger Books.


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13 April
Back onto S Stage to find the cat room is now the christening pavilion. The Gormenghast choristers arrive from the Temple choir and give us the first flavour of John Tavener's ritual music. They sing like angels, a piece he wrote for his father's funeral. They wear Gormenghast surplices in yellow ochre over regulation castle knickerbockers. The boys protest it all itches like hell and scratch between -- and during -- takes. They are accompanied by a dummy band of ancient instruments -- the real sound will be recorded by the Academy of Ancient Music. There is a peculiar wind instrument made out of Christopher Hobbs's ashtray. The first prop he brought in, made at home one evening to give us a taste of the world. Someone else seems to be blowing some kind of carved duck. The centre piece of the band is a large instrument like a double bass. Christopher gleefully points out he has recycled the kitchen bellows, adding a carved head and a gold doily for fretwork under the strings. The sound is exquisite, at once ancient and searingly modern.

...In a fug of sizzling lights, artificial sunlight beating through tent walls, the rubber baby blasphemously bounces to the floor and Master Chalk, now performing like a major star, flutters from Celia's shoulder. It is the first time for thousands of years the flow of the Gormenghast ritual has been threatened. This will intercut with Steerpike's climb towards power, up onto the roof of the kingdom. Unrest in the castle sets in.

'Who has done all this?' says Lady Groan.

15 April
Christopher has been up all night making jellies. He has designed a sumptuous visual banquet where the food owes much to twentieth-century sculpture, Miró & co. The crowning glory is a row of moss-green giant jellies in perfect geometric pyramids, each with an oscillating red cherry on top. The moulds have been specially made and every one, Christopher tells me, contains more than 150 packets of Rowntrees jelly. The entire Art Department is branded as doubters as they have deemed this an impossible feat, raising all kinds of problems such as the jellies dissolving under the lights. The detail Christopher is most proud of is the vibrating cherry. He explains how it is secured on a lever made out of a cocktail stick so minimal vibration at the base in the jelly, will cause large-scale turbulence once it is transmitted up to the cherry.

I go to see Christopher later to let him know we have encountered a major design flaw in the jelly. At the climax of the scene Ian Richardson was called to leap on the table impersonating an owl and jump in the jellies as he flapped down the table to Baby Titus. To avoid the melting factor the construction of the jellies was so dense that he bounced off the top!

17 April
Spike Milligan, most senior member of the cast, arrives to play the Headmaster. Much has gone before him in terms of advice about his needs and desires. We are reliably told he may not be able to tolerate much in the way of make-up and would probably most appreciate being left in peace in his dressing room.

After arrival and a friendly exchange, we tactfully leave him to rest in his dressing room. He puts his head round the door of the make-up room some while later, asking indignantly why he hasn't been done yet. Surely he must have white death make-up! Once on set he tells me he has read the Trilogy three times at different points in his life and is delighted to be part of the film. Whenever I attempt to add something to an anecdote he says, 'Don't jump on my jokes!'

A slight delay in installing him in his lofty woven basket chair, as the wheels are a bit too mountain-bike and not enough Gormenghast. Gregor Fisher plays the Fly, a red faced puffing janitor of a character, whose main job is to push Spike in the chair and ultimately to his death.

We set up for the scene and Spike eagerly asks Andy for some direction. Andy tells him rather ruefully that his function in the scene is to sleep throughout. Distinguished snoring on the first take...

20 April
Stephen Fry on set, pockets full of carefully chosen props -- half-sucked boiled sweets, snuff, pocket primers and catapults confiscated from his Gormenghast scholars. He sits in the Gormenghast schoolroom inscribing wonderful Gormenghastian geometry and geography on the blackboard. He is joined after lunch by his comrades-in-arms, Martin Clunes, Mark Williams, James Dreyfus, Phil Cornwell and Steve Pemberton. They sit in a cluster off set, capping each other's jokes. Suddenly we're into comedy mode and the pace licks along sitcom style. We shoot the gags and the reactions and we're done.

... The moment to polish [Spike] off arrives and the gang thunders down the corridor. Gregor times a perfect prat fall on the greasy board -- the gang behind him trample him under their feet and the Spike Milligan dummy, begowned and mortar-boarded, sails through the window.

30 April
... We ponder the key stills image for the show. Steerpike up on the Great Clock of Gormenghast, not swinging Harold Lloyd style as he does in the book, but straddling the hour and the minute hand -- five to twelve. I remember watching Johnny's screen test with Michael Wearing, executive producer, and his comment -- ' l always knew Steerpike would be the face of the future, whatever that is.' So here is Johnny Rhys Meyers on the eve of the Millennium with all the bravado and panache you could ever have hoped for, holding back time and whipping up the winds of change.

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