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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.


March | April | May | June | July


2 June
...Shepperton hums with Gormenghast. Over in the stunt studio, Jonathan Rhys Meyers swings from the hands of the Great Clock against a blue screen, and jumps between the rooftops.

On the model stage, Mark Copeland has arrived with Gormenghast castle in his van. They (we think of the castle as a character it seems) have driven up the A12 from his Suffolk village, where he has been modelling in minute detail and painting in the garden shed. The roofs, towers and cupolas of Gormenghast in miniature, lovingly hand-crafted. Christopher scurries about between the three huge glass tanks in shirt sleeves, boffin-like, positioning cardboard cutouts, playing with cotton wool clouds and talking to me animatedly about water temperatures, air bubbles and the properties of Dettol as a mist effect.

9 June
It's raining in the Grand Courtyard. Extras scurry about with Calcutta umbrellas and stars are stately under ornate Chinese parasols with rain machines full pelt. Camera crew trudge round in two inches of sludge. The studio is full of lakes of horse pee from yesterday and stinks. Gormenghast is grey and the mood has changed. People produce their treasured copies of the book. Nigel, the model cameraman, has a boxed set priced £1.90 inc. box, he won as a prize in an art competition twenty-five years ago. Keith, the boom operator, has bought the new edition and it is signed by every actor. Paul Tothill, the editor, has three faded Penguins in the cutting room acquired and devoured aged fifteen. 'When I finished the last page of Titus Alone, I started at page one of Titus Groan again.' We show the cast and crew rushes and I ask the camera operator what he thinks. 'I've seen it before,' he says!

17 June
The death of Steerpike. Titus, hanging by a foot upside down in the tangled ivy, suspended by a harness round his ankles by stuntmen. Steerpike, fully clothed, up to his neck in the tank in the studio floor. Both actors terribly uncomfortable, face each other out for the last time. Johnny heaves himself out between takes, shivering and Andrew is cranked up and down for a rest from bat hanging. Pain seems to inform the scene. Steerpike sinks under the water and we see Titus's face blur as the underwater camera pulls down under the water. Titus fades in the eyes of the sinking Steerpike. 'You were lucky,' says Steerpike. The roll of the dice, the hand of fate, the inconsequence of privilege, fame and fortune. The central theme of great classic writing.

18 June
Most of the day taken up with an underwater camera sequence when the burning Steerpike and Barquentine fall together into the moat and fight down in the depths. Johnny and a grey-haired Barquentine double in heavy prosthetic make-up plunge repeatedly underwater, always seeming to stay thirty seconds longer than seems possible, as the underwater cameraman follows the double floating down to his screen death. Nothing comes easy in Gormenghast.

21 June
We leave Shepperton for a final burst of location shooting. As we go, K Stage, our main studio, is now being dismantled to make space for a vast fibreglass tank where we will film the final flood sequences and boat flotillas next week. We'd planned to shoot on the tank at Pinewood but it's in use by 007. The grand balcony, the big mobile towers and walls of Gormenghast that have been the constant throughout, are now being felled. There is much splintering wood and skips. Gives one a certain sense of anxiety watching a timeless and unchanging kingdom disintegrating to firewood. This is Peake not Chekhov.

22 June
The last of the big Gormenghast rituals. Warren Mitchell regales us with jokes from a high platformed seat with a megaphone. The family are on rafts with 200 Carvers behind. Titus is 'Earled', to the tones of Tavener. Two musicians blow a fanfare on Tibetan prayer horns and we imagine the scene with the castle' matted' on behind in the computer. The top of the amphitheatre gives us a perfect horizon line to superimpose the castle where today there is blue sky.

I realise Master Chalk will go out with Celia on the raft. Won't he finally fly away? Strange black swans tack across the lake, geese spiral overhead disturbed by our trespass and Steve, the birdman, tames the resident white doves. More bird magicking.

23 June
Heatwave continues. The sunhats are out and we sit in a row of striped deckchairs, Margate style, filming stars on rafts. 'Seven clouds today, Nannie!' Huge clouds race across the bright blue sky and the royal Groans sit on the rafts again for twenty minutes at a time between takes waiting for the sun. Celia Imrie sits in state with an incongruous pair of cool shades which she puts on between shots.

The final triumph for Master Chalk. It's time to put him on Celia's shoulder on the raft. Will he fly for freedom, drown or perform? Frogmen are positioned to scoop him out of the water. 'Will he float?' asks one of the actors. 'All dead birds float,' says Steve, the birdman. Steve puts him on Celia's shoulder and the hundred or so involved wait with baited breath... the sun goes in. Still he sits for fifteen minutes, great star that he is, then we get our shot.

26 June
We're in Honeysuckle Bottom near Guildford -- a lovely old English wood with yew trees of astonishing age. Lots of horses and galloping scenes plus romance in the mist between Steerpike and Fuchsia. The Wild Girl sits up a tree and eats a live bird, a model wired up to move realistically.

27 June
High Rocks at Tunbridge Wells and a big stunt. Fuchsia slips down the rocks and Steerpike rescues her. I arrive to find Eunice, a feisty Liverpudlian stunt girl, all frocked up and ready to launch herself down a terrifying rock face. One of those low moments when you wonder why you're in the business and what it all means. Johnny Rhys Meyers has to follow her to the edge of the cliff and is harnessed to a nearby tree. Eunice steps forward to plunge -- and the sun comes out. We wait twenty minutes and the sky gets bluer and bluer. We're doing a rain scene and we've already shot the first part in grey-skied drizzle. Finally the weather falls in, the rain machines start up and Eunice leaps off the cliff. We cut and the paramedics rush in to check she's in one piece. Eunice skips off her crash pad of boxes and demands a second go at it...

Wonderful sexy chemistry between Fuchsia and Steerpike in this sequence. He tries to steal a kiss in the rain, but it isn't to be. Not ever. Even after so much murder and mayhem you could almost feel sorry for the boy.

28 June
Gormenghast-on-Sea. We take the stripy deckchairs back to the studio and put them up beside a huge tank occupying the entire studio, with towering castle walls built into it. Camera crew, assistant directors and God knows who else paddle about in waders and are a sight to behold. Rain machines full pelt and Titus skimming about in his silver canoe. Outside it rains too, all day. No play at Wimbledon.

29 June
Gertrude pursues Steerpike in the royal fleet. A flotilla of boats tacks across the tank, lanterns in the bows with Lady Groan in the prow of the leading boat, impassive...

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