ADAPTED FROM CATHERINE STORR’S novel Marianne Dreams by TIMESLIP supremo RUTH BOSWELL. The bastards! Of all the many fine examples of latex-’n’-plywood-era children’s telly, this has to be the apotheosis of the noble tradition of shoestring fright. More kids were traumatised by this series of six half-hours than in the entire Jon P’Twee era of DOCTOR WHO.
It’s a no frills set-up – the eponymous Marianne, slightly spoilt daughter of a long suffering patrician mother, is laid up in bed after falling off a horse, and amuses herself drawing a house with a pencil of dubious antiquity. Said house comes to wonky, ominous life in her dreams, containing nothing but stroppy, pyjamaed Mark, who may exist in real life as the bed-bound fellow pupil of Marianne’s private tutor. Cue lots of arguments, tantrums and ill-advised drawn additions to the house making the situation worse: a scribble turns to bars on the window, a radio proves to be all sinister static and Bakelite, and most infamously of all, a row of murmuring, monocular standing stones are slowly advancing up the garden path to the house. Eventually of course, the two kids bury their differences, help each other out, and worthy lessons about co-operation, tolerance, stoicism and not being a spoiled git are learnt. But, we would point out, these effects were all but dwarfed by the amount of juvenile pant-wetting occasioned by the appearance of those stones.
Away from the nightmare house, the drama itself often seems to be drawn with Marianne’s dodgy pencil. The opening horse accident set-up is staged with all the dynamic aplomb of the Play It Safe reserve crew, and the acting’s firmly in the breathy, gosh-posh bracket (pre-Pauline Quirke Italia Conti for the kids, Waggoner’s Walk walk-on for the grown-ups). It’s perfunctory drama for middle school kids right enough, but this was time when even the most basic children’s drama was sprinkled with subtle bits of the real world creep into the script too. There’s a bit of polio awareness, and Marianne’s absentee Dad is “off in Africa” – cue allusions to Uganda etc. But the simple, inexorable progression of the nightmare was what really clicked with the kids.
A classic bit of kids’ telly it may be, but let’s tot up those psychological war crimes for the record: the eerie first appearance of the imaginary house, the spooky humming over the closing credits, the liberal use of two slightly distorted echo units, the one-handed grandfather clock, the dankly lit minimalist house interior (especially when the lighthouse gets going) and those trauma-inducing one-eyed rocks, whose scarring mental legacy lives on. All psychiatrist’s bills to be forwarded to L Grade, ATVLand.