Gormenghast (TV serial)

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Gormenghast 2000 TV Mini-Series DVD cover.jpg
DVD cover
Created bySeries:
Malcolm McKay
Mervyn Peake
Written byMalcolm McKay
Directed byAndy Wilson
Music byRichard Rodney Bennett
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series1
No. of episodes4
Editor(s)Paul Tothill
Running timeapprox. 58 min. (per episode)
Production company(s)WGBH Boston Productions for BBC Television
Original network
Original release
  • 17 January (UK)
  • 27 June 2001 (US)
  • 7 February 2000 (UK)
  • 28 June 2001 (US)
External links
Gormenghast @BBC Drama

Gormenghast is a four-episode television serial based on the first two novels of the Gothic fantasy Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake. It was produced and broadcast by the BBC.

First broadcast in early 2000, the serial was designed for an early evening time-slot in much the same vein as the earlier adaptations of The Chronicles of Narnia. The BBC conception was based on the idea that Peake's early life in China had influenced the creation of Gormenghast; thus, the castle in the series resembles the Forbidden City in Beijing as well as the holy city of Lhasa in Tibet.[citation needed]


The series covers the events of the first two books, Titus Groan and Gormenghast. It does not cover any of the events from the third book, Titus Alone.

Episode Summary
Episode 1 Depicts the events of the first half of Titus Groan, beginning with the birth of Titus and features a number of events including Titus's christening, Steerpike's escape and the events up to the lighting of the fire in the Library.
Episode 2 The episode begins by detailing the conclusion of the events surrounding the fire in the Library. This episode mainly focusses on the events in the second half of Titus Groan, including Sepulchrave's descent into madness and the subsequent death of the Earl and Swelter, Keda's departure and the birth of The Thing, and the banishment of Flay. It ends with the ceremony in which Titus is invested as Earl.
Episode 3 The episode picks up the story eleven years after the events of the previous episode and mainly covers the events from the early part of Gormenghast. Titus, now aged 12, is a schoolboy. The episode includes events such as Irma Prunesquallor's party and her romance with Professor Bellgrove, the murder of Nannie Slagg by Steerpike, and the incarceration of Clarice and Cora. During the episode, Titus begins to rebel and makes his first journey away from the castle, where he meets Flay and sees The Thing.
Episode 4 The final episode covers the remaining events of Gormenghast, in which Titus - now aged 17 - along with Flay and the Doctor discover Steerpike's misdeeds. Events in this episode include Steerpike's murder of Barquentine, the discovery of the twins' corpses, Fuchsia's depression, the flood, the search for Steerpike and Titus' wish to leave Gormenghast.


Role Actor
Steerpike Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Gertrude, Countess of Groan Celia Imrie
Sepulchrave, Earl of Groan Ian Richardson
Lady Fuchsia Groan Neve McIntosh
Flay Christopher Lee
Swelter Richard Griffiths
Titus, Earl of Groan (17 years) Andrew N. Robertson
Titus, Earl of Groan (12 years) Cameron Powrie
Dr Alfred Prunesquallor John Sessions
Irma Prunesquallor Fiona Shaw
Nannie Slagg June Brown
Keda Olga Sosnovska
Lady Clarice Groan Zoë Wanamaker
Lady Cora Groan Lynsey Baxter
Professor Bellgrove Stephen Fry
Barquentine Warren Mitchell
Rottcodd Windsor Davies
Mollocks Eric Sykes
Headmaster De'Ath Spike Milligan
The Fly Gregor Fisher
Professor Perch Mark Williams
Professor Flower Martin Clunes
Professor Mule Steve Pemberton
Professor Shred Phil Cornwell
Professor Fluke James Dreyfus
Poet Sean Hughes


At the time of its broadcast, Gormenghast was among the most ambitious serials ever undertaken by the BBC. The series required a combined five years of production and pre-production and utilized over 120 sets.

Differences from source material[edit]

Changes were made to both the plots and characters of both books.


Certain changes are made to make the story fit the four episode format:

  • Steerpike's murder of Barquentine is delayed until the fourth episode, to make room for the sections concerning Titus's escapes, thus making the character significantly older when this happens.
  • The story of Keda's lovers' rivalry and Keda's subsequent wanderings in the wilderness are condensed and she leaves Gormenghast much later, just prior to Swelter and Sepulchrave's deaths.
  • Steerpike's backstory was amended for the TV series. In Titus Groan he had only been in the kitchen for a few weeks before making his escape, while on TV in a monologue to his monkey in episode 4, Steerpike stated that he was sent to the kitchens when he was six, suffering various abuses at the hands of Swelter. In the DVD documentary The Making of Gormenghast Jonathan Rhys-Myers (who played Steerpike) stated that the character of Steerpike had been subjected to sexual abuse in the kitchens, though this was not made explicit in any of the episodes.
  • A section of the plot of Titus Groan in which Fuchsia and Steerpike meet in the woods and discuss equality, and Fuchsia subsequently breaking her leg, is moved forward into the events of Gormenghast, by which point Steerpike is actively trying to seduce Fuchsia.
  • In the books, Fuchsia falls out of love instantly with Steerpike when he calls her a fool, but in the series her love endures after he is unmasked. In episode 4, an additional scene is added where Steerpike, now on the run, begs for Fuchsia's help and seems to be on the point of receiving it, but when he calls her "Fuchsia", rather than Lady as he has on all other occasions, the display of affection shocks Fuchsia who calls for the guards. Steerpike leaps from the window, reminding her that he could have given her everything.
  • In the books, it is ambiguous whether Nannie Slagg's death is natural from old age or not. In the series, it is clear that Steerpike poisons Nannie Slagg, who has become an obstacle to Steerpike's relationship with Fuchsia.


  • In the book, Steerpike is described as being less physically attractive, with close-set red eyes and greasy hair, which he does not have in the series.
  • Several minor characters were cut out entirely for the screen, most notably Sourdust (Barquentine's father who dies in the fire), Pentecost (the gardener) and some of the professors.
  • The Headmaster's name has been changed from Deadyawn to De'Ath.
  • The character named Rottcodd, who in the book was in charge of the Hall of the Bright Carvings, becomes in the miniseries captain of the guard; a similar character does appear in the books but goes unnamed.
  • The names of some other Professors have been shortened. Professor Mulefire is renamed Professor Mule, Professor Cutflower is renamed Professor Flower.
  • Barquentine has two legs and crutches on screen rather than one as in the book because Warren Mitchell couldn't manage with one leg strapped up.


The series received wide critical acclaim, with particular praise for its visual design, music, cinematography and the cast's performances. Variety offered an especially glowing review, describing it as an "unforgettable production" and a fascinating drama that defied logic. And specifically, the review noted that it featured "marvelous performances all around", although it singled out Celia Imrie's portrayal of Lady Gertrude for especial praise.[1]





  1. ^ "Gormenghast Review"
  2. ^ a b "Gormenghast - The Film - Awards and Nominations". www.pbs.org.
  3. ^ "RTS Craft and Design Winners 2000 - Royal Television Society". www.rts.org.uk.
  4. ^ "Ivor Novello Awards for the year 2000". www.rarevinyl.de.

External links[edit]