1 9 7 7 (UK)
7 x 25 minute episodes
After an accident in a tower block lift, teenager Roland Wright (Philip da Costa) – already living in fear of his school choirmaster (Fulton MacKay) and distant from both his laidback musician father and his stepmother – finds himself in a strange dreamworld 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.
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 argues that the drudgery of work in the castle kitchens, where young children toil in irons, “is all pointless”. Frustrating bureaucracy features in a bewildering cycle of form-filling where he is shunted from pillar to post.
When Roland finally becomes King by overthrowing father figure The Lord 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.
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