By a customer
, 27 Feb 2010
I missed this when it was on originally (BBC1, 29th December 1981): the idea of it being on a prime-time channel in the xmas period now seems lunatic, but in the 3 TV channel UK, such things did happen (now we have 1,000 channels showing reruns of Diagnosis Murder and reality shows how far we've come).
Rudkin's drama is an existential tale of a remote and emotionally frigid writer (Hywel Bennett) discovering his humanity, as part of a larger fable of good and evil. Some effects are dated, and the editing was unsupervised and is poor in terms of continuity and feel for the length of scenes. Moreover, it was originally meant to be a two-part drama, and there is such a shift after 90 minutes that this hamstrings it, when watched in one sitting. On the whole, it remains interesting:
1. Dialogue: the characters speak a sort of stylised English, which is cod-Shakespearean or verbose-Beckettian. Some of it is terrible, some wonderful, but the general effect is startling: this, warts and all, is the modern dramatic equivalent of blank verse. (It must be said that 'dialogue' is a misnomer though 'portentous and gnomic speech about life, death and weltschmerz, whilst looking in a completely different direction from the supposed interlocutor', would be a more accurate description of it).
2. Some of it looks great the brief scenes on another planet, the uses of various different landscapes. This helps the creation of an obscure, sinister mood, and the sense of a secret, controlling force, which, even if it is nowhere as achieved or designed in terms of ideas, look, or sound, is not a million miles from the thinking of Lynch in Twin Peaks more or less a decade later.
3. Influences: it's been remarked elsewhere that the Hitchcock references aren't really enough to do with the erstwhile supernatural themes to earn their corn, and sometimes they are too overt; more interesting are the Bergman allusions, which include a sinister child with broken glasses who appears twice (c.f Persona), and the dystopian city where Bennett is sent and where everyone speaks an unknown language (apparently Estonian backwards), which is straight from The Silences. Then, Bennett goes on to the underground silo city, walking along a train line: the whole thing shows the influence of Tarkovsky's Stalker.
So, this is a strange English homage to such contemporary European giants of the cinema, with its own national sense of mysticism. Thirty years on, a lot of Artemis 81 assumes a profundity is hasn't earned, and is sometimes as laughably earnest as the most naïve student drama. But, for all its follies, it does earn respect for even getting such ideas onto the major BBC channel of its day.
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