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SFX Issue 13 review

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June 1996

TV review:

Gulliver’s Travels

Production company: Hallmark Entertainment
Producer: Duncan Kenworthy
Director: Charles Sturridge
Starring: Ted Dansen, Mary Steenburgen, James Fox, John Gielgud...

You can bet that if Gulliver’s Travels had been a movie it would have arrived in Britain with a poster emblazoned with quotes along the lines of, “A Triumph! – The Daily Telegraph ,” “Superb – The Daily Mail ” and “Little People, Big Hit – The Sun .” Although not without its faults, Gulliver’s Travels is a tour de force of television production (that’d sound good on the billboards too) which reeked of quality in every department.

Getting over the episodic nature of Swift’s 18th century satire Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World in Four Parts… by Lemuel Gulliver was the major obstacle, and one the script hurdled magnificently with the framing device of having Gulliver pronounced mad when he returns from his journeys, spouting these fantastic tales of little people, big people and talking horses. This not only provided for an on-going plot with a beginning, middle and end, it also enabled for some remarkably innovative editing and effects, as Gulliver oscillates from present to past, and characters from his stories overlap into the “real” world. Only the slightly twee, rather contrived ending let it down.

The script pulled no punches as far as the satire went. It’s amazing that, even though Swift wrote his tale in the early 1730s, a lot of the comments he was making about “British” society still ring true today. Bureaucracy is bureaucracy and prejudice is prejudice in any century.

Heading up an almost uniformly superb cast was the revelatory Ted Dansen; his accent may have been awry, but his energetic performance provided a strong central core to the show. There were too many good cameos to list, but best of all must have been Warwick ( Return of the Jedi ’s Wicket) Davis getting the chance to utter the line, “Hello, shorty.” Only Mary Steenbergen’s breathy simpering finally managed to grate.

On the production side, I doubt whether there have ever been any better effects created for a TV movie. The flying island Laputa and the giant Brobdingnagians all came to life with breathtaking results (although the script allowed for a few cut corners). The lush costume and set designs added to the sumptuousness, which was only occasionally dragged down by Charles ( Brideshead Revisited ) Sturridge’s oddly flat direction.

Okay, so the stylised storytelling and the satire might have made it a bit hardgoing for the younger kids, who were probably anticipating a fairy tale about giants and midgets (I think, perhaps, Channel 4 should have made it a bit more obvious in their trailers quite how “adult” the thing was), but for the rest of us it was sheer class. Get the production team back together to do a TV adaptation of Lord Of The Rings , we say.

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