Artemis 81

 1981

 
Hywel Bennett, Dinah Stabb, Dan O'Herlihy, Ian Redford, Sting, Roland Curram.

Film Cameraman: David Jackson.
Design: Gavin Davies.
Painter (glass-shots): Brian Bishop.
Organ Passacaglia: Gordon Crosse.
Produced by David Rose.
Directed by Alastair Reid.
 

Experiments with smoke and laser-beams: Gavin Davies (designer), with Margaret Whiting as Laura, a suicide's wife and now herself a captive in Death's underworld. Production photograph © Willoughby Gullachsen.

Again for BBC Pebble Mill, producer David Rose: an ambitious 3-hour venture, originally conceived as a co-production with TV Denmark - hence the Danish dimension to the story.

Gideon, a successful novelist, insulated from reality and emotionally arid, is deeply and ruefully loved by two people: a woman musician, and a man who teaches film. But Gideon flinches from all human contact. From an alien planet, an angel of love descends, to try to unlock Gideon's emotions and save him. But an angel of death comes not far after, seeking to imprison Gideon in his frigidity. At the climax, high within the tower of an abbey, while an organ recital proceeds below, Death's trap is so sprung that, if Gideon succumb to him now, the whole world will be destroyed.

An existential morality, told in terms of Gothic fable, with powerful organ music (coming from the woman's part in the story) and Hitchcockian allusions (refracted from the film-obsessions of the other man). I can see why some disparage it now as a 'pretensh-fest' by a 'hi-aim author' (okay folks, let's all be happy little epsilons and aim low...); but where people positively respond to it, it's to its prodigality with images, and its mythic charge that flows into parts of us that meaner contemporary tv drama (and cinema for that matter) do not even know are there.

I acknowledge that the piece is uneven - in the writing and in the realizing. I feel also that some of the playing lacks inwardness - in a very tight shoot, technical and budget considerations predominated, thus the director had little time to do the deeper exploring with the actors that is necessary, so that they were working mainly on technique. (By contrast, Sting, nervous and awkward in his first 'legitimate' rôle, is moving in this very nervousness and awkwardness - with no technique as yet to trust to, he has to use his emotions.) For director Alastair Reid, I think the shoot was a Hellish experience - especially during the mere three days we had for the Danish location work. On the North Sea ferry there and back, there were shots that he had only one chance to get right. He needed all his commitment to the piece, and all his formidable technical mastery.

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