Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Watching Instantly: Neverwhere (1996)

I've been enjoying Netflix's "Watch Instantly" feature. (I'd enjoy it even more if I had a bigger monitor or had the computer hooked up to the television, but that's money I don't want to spend.) Recently they notified me that Neverwhere (1996), which was in my queue, was now available to watch instantly. When I found that each episode was under half an hour, I started watching them daily. It seems very seldom that one finds a half-hour dramatic program these days.
(Something about commercials, I guess, but Neverwhere came from the BBC.)

Co-creator Neil Gaiman knows his mythology, folklore and history, and mixes them expertly in this all-too-short miniseries. Neverwhere, like many of the best fantasies and indeed thrillers of any genre, takes an ordinary person and drops him into the middle of a dangerous situation, where he must quickly learn the rules or be annihilated. In this case, Richard Mayhew (Gary Bakewell) stumbles on an injured young woman on a London street. When she refuses medical help, he takes her to his flat and is thereby drawn into the drama of London Below -- a sort of parallel London where time and space are utterly changed, rival baronies and fiefdoms make life very dangerous, people have special powers, and the names of London places like Earl's Court and Blackfriars are interpreted literally. Richard and The Lady Door (Laura Fraser) must stay alive and avenge the deaths of her family while pursued by the horrifying Mr. Croup and Mr. Vanderbar. Can they trust the Marquis of Carabas, the Angel Islington, the bodyguard Hunter? Only time and experience will tell.

The episodes are visually beautiful, with some scenes and backgrounds reminding me of the collages in Somerset Studio. Special effects are very good also and the performances of all the actors are excellent. I especially liked seeing Trevor Peacock (the "No, no, no, no, no, yes" guy from Vicar of Dibley) as an aged Papageno-like character who plays a small but important part.

The ending leaves a possibility of a sequel, but one has never been made, alas. Still, I would recommend this six-part series to anyone who enjoys Gaiman's brand of fantasy.

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