1 9 7 7 (UK)
7 x 25 minute episodes
After an accident in a malfunctioning council tower block lift, teenager Roland Wright (Philip da Costa) – already living in fear of his school choirmaster, Spurgeon (Fulton MacKay) and distant from both his laidback musician father and his stepmother – finds himself in a strange dream world that is a twisted version of his own anxieties.
The broken lift plunges to the basement of ‘the Castle’, a bizarrely twisted reflection of the real world. “Kafka for kids” is how co-writer Bob Baker concisely summed up this unsettling fantasy-based serial from West Country ITV franchise HTV.
The entire cast, bar Roland, plays dual roles in the two worlds, their normal selves and exaggerated alter-egos.
The first person Roland meets is a reflection of Vine (Talfryn Thomas), the caretaker of his tower block. In the fantasy landscape he is known as Vein, the keeper of the keys, an ambivalent but ghoulish character who guides Roland through the various levels of the labyrinth and continually leaves the audience guessing whether he is working for or against Roland.
As Roland tries to escape the Castle he confronts his real-world challenges in allegorical and symbolic ways. Crazed scientist Hawkspur (Fulton MacKay again) keeps a caged Frankenstein’s monster, reflecting Spurgeon’s control over his errant choirboy.
Roland is confronted by several mirror images of his troubled life. The bully Ripper (Jamie Foreman) becomes a Samurai warrior and the pair fight on a number of occasions. His stepmother, June (Angela Richards) appears as a witch and even insignificant players, like the two police officers called out to a disturbance at the flats, appear as castle guards.
When Roland finally becomes King by overthrowing father figure The Lord (a reflection of his father) it is only to find that having power is as frustrating as lacking it.
He undergoes various trials and faces occasional temptations and grows from a timid boy to a confident young man as he progresses. Meanwhile, in the real world, rescue attempts by the lift engineers, police and caretaker continue.
His subjects in the labyrinth eventually revolt, putting him on trial for treason and finally banishing him. This allows him to return to reality but as a changed person. He is now someone brave enough to tell Spurgeon that he will no longer be attending choir and clever enough to beat Ripper without the need for violence. Most important, he has the courage to begin to build an understanding with his father.
Although primarily studio-bound, HTV spent £300,000 on the production and nine months auditioning 200 children in an attempt to ensure they cast the right boy in the part of Roland.
ITV’s planners recognised this was something apart from the norm and, feeling it might be too frightening for young viewers, delayed its planned weekday transmission by four months until a family-friendly Sunday teatime slot became available.
The serial was nominated for a BAFTA.
Philip da Costa