1 9 9 6 (UK)
6 x 180 minute episodes
City-boy white-collar worker Richard Mayhew (Gary Bakewell) leads an ordinary life in London.
One day a girl named Door (Laura Fraser) falls across his path. He helps the injured girl and the next thing he knows, his life is gone and he’s pulled into the fantastical world of ‘London Below’ – a weird parallel world underneath London.
There, he finds a whole world of wild subcultures and crazy characters, from Old Bailey (Trevor Peacock), a man clothed in feathers who trades in birds and information, to Hunter (Tanya Moodie), a legend in her own lifetime, who is pursuing her most fearful game yet – the Beast of London below, whom they say even whole regiments of soldiers have failed to kill.
It’s a place of rat-speakers and floating markets (which hop around the city and are held in the shadows of London landmarks), a place of magic and mystery, supervised by its very own angel, Islington (Peter Capaldi).
Pursued by the murderous Mr Croup (Hywel Bennett) and Mr Vandemar (Clive Russell), Lady Door and Richard – with the help of Hunter and the Marquis de Carabas (Paterson Joseph) – attempt to find the sacred key and Islington, who knows the secret behind the murder of Lady Door’s family, and possibly a way for Richard to get home.
The BBC wouldn’t let the filmmakers shoot on film – promising instead that, if they shot on video, the footage could be processed through a ‘film filter’ afterwards. This never eventuated, however, and the sequences lit for film, but inevitably broadcast from a video source, look garish and cheap.
Although the series was set in a fictional underworld, the crew shot the series in actual London locations – including Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, Battersea Power Station, HMS Belfast, the vaults underneath Clink Street, the closed-down British Museum Tube station and the rooftops above St Pancras Station.
Scriptwriter Neil Gaiman turned the story into a novel following the completion of the series.
The project originally sprung from the mind of comedian Lenny Henry, who initially tapped Gaiman to write an urban fantasy series set among London’s homeless community.
Not wanting to make it seem like sleeping rough was either cool or magical, Gaiman instead re-shaped the idea as a jaunt through a timeless underworld that lurks beneath London’s streets.
Marquis de Carabas
Julie T. Wallace
Door | Knightsbridge | Earl’s Court to Angel Islington | Blackfriars | Down Street | As Above, So Below