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DVD Review: Beasts by Nigel Kneale

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Beasts

Written by Nigel Kneale

DVD Review: Beasts (TV Series written by Nigel Kneale)Beasts was written by Nigel Kneale and originally aired in the mid '70s. The series consisted of just six episodes. I never saw it at the time and had never even heard of it until it came out on DVD, but I read a review that extolled the virtues of the series. It sounded like I had missed out, so I bought a copy.
 
Beasts comes on two discs and there is a commemorative booklet included inside the DVD case.
 
Disc one contains the episodes "Baby", "Buddyboy" and "The Dummy". It also contains a bonus a story called "Murrain", which was a single play, also written by Kneale, and in a similar vein as the Beasts TV series.
 
Disc two contains the episodes "Special Offer", "What Big Eyes# and "During Barty's Party". The disc also has an image gallery, and if you pop the disc into your computer's DVD Rom Drive you will discover a PDF copy of the original ATV brochure about the show, along with PDF scripts for the episodes "Buddyboy", "During Barty's Party" and "Special Offer".
 
I must admit that I was a little disappointed by a few episodes, but the rest ranged from okay to very good.
 
 

DISC 1

 
 

BABY

Vet, Peter Gilkes (Simon MaCorkindale) moves to the country with his pregnant wife Jo (Jane Wymark). The cottage they have moved into needs a little work doing, so they have a couple of workmen around the place. When Jo returns home from the train station with her cat, Mudslinger, in its basket. The moment she enters the cottage the cat starts playing up, mewing noisily. As soon as she lets it out of the basket, it flees the cottage. Not long after this her husband returns from work, full of his new job, full of himself, and quite obnoxious.
 
When the workmen finish for the day, Gilkes stands looking at the wall one of them has been knocking down. Thinking more should have been done, he picks up some tools and starts chiselling out the bricks. It doesn't take him long to discover a clay urn entombed inside the wall. The lid is sealed with a wax-like substance. Gilkes scrapes the sealant away and removes the lid. Inside the urn he finds a strange mummified creature. It scares his wife and she doesn't want it in the house, but Gilkes is fascinated. What is it and why was it entombed in the wall? Examining it, he is not sure what kind of creature it even was. He has never seen anything like it.
 
"Baby" started off okay and towards the end of the story I was quite interested to know how it was all going to turn out. When I got to the end, however, I was a little disappointed. The story just didn't work for me and I felt a little let down.
 
If I have one lasting memory of "Baby" it is what awful people the characters were. In real life, the vet's wife was the only character I would have given the time of day to. Everyone else just seemed far too full of themselves. They got on my nerves and were the kind of people that—if you met them in a pub—you would be less likely to buy them as drink as to throw one over them.
 
 

BUDDYBOY

I didn't particularly enjoy watching "Buddyboy" and, once again, I felt let down by the ending. Basically, "Buddyboy" is a story about a disused dolphin pool. The star of the show was a dolphin called Buddyboy, who died in mysterious circumstances. The dolphins are all gone and pool now contains a mixture of cobwebs and dust. The present owner seems extremely eager to sell, and is showing the property to a porn baron, played by Martin Shaw, who is looking to expand his business. The present owner is so anxious to sell that the porn baron gets suspicious and wonders why he is so eager, and what it is that he seems to be so afraid of ?
 
 
 

THE DUMMY

This one I did like. It is the story of an actor called Clyde Boyd who has found success as the man inside a dummy suit. The Dummy films have proved to be very popular and it is during the making of the latest film that Clyde suddenly seems to go to pieces. The problem arises when another actor turns up on set. As soon as Clyde becomes aware of the man's presence he starts making mistakes and eventually stomps off to his dressing room, removes his mask, and starts hitting the bottle.
 
I liked "The Dummy" for many reasons, one of which was the way Clyde appeared to have been so strangely typecast. It seemed that even some of his fellow actors didn't know who he was even though he was the star of the show. He was "The Dummy" and The Dummy was famous.


Watching this I was curious to find out what the problem was between Clyde and the other actor. Once I discovered the answer it was even more interesting to see how Clyde dealt with his problem. In the end though, he was still very much the dummy.
 
 

MURRAIN (bonus)

This one is very good too. The Central character is a vet called Alan Crich who is called in by a farmer, Mably (Bernard Lee), to look at his pigs. Crich is not sure what ails the pigs, but thinks it is probably a virus. Mably, who seems to be the main guy in the village, then proceeds to show Crich all sorts of other things that have absolutely nothing to do with veterinary practice:  the pig's water supply has dried up, one of Mably's employees has a visibly twisted ankle, and the local shopkeeper's son lies ill in a bed, in the living room behind the shop. Mably and the rest of the villagers blame an old woman, Mrs Clemson, for all of this and claim that she is a witch. They want Crich's help to put a stop to her.
 
Crich is a vet and has a scientific mind. The villager's minds are filled with superstition and in the end it is Mrs Clemson that Crich tries to help.
 
From beginning to end, I found Murrain a little unsettling and for a lot of the time I was worried that something bad might happen to the vet. I also wondered about Mrs Clemson: was she a witch? I was still wondering this when the programme finished. Not because it was a bad ending—it was actually a pretty good ending—but because what happened could easily be put down to natural causes and coincidence, but just as easily to witchcraft. I think this is one episode that each viewer will have to make up their own minds about. I am sure that some might swing one way, and some the other, while others might stand in the middle ground and not know which way to turn. I think in the end Crich occupied the same middle ground as I did.
 
 
 

DISC 2

 
 

SPECIAL OFFER

This one is my favourite. It stars a young Pauline Quirk as mini-supermarket worker, Noreen, who is looked down on by most of her work colleagues and belittled. The worst person for this is the store's manager, Colin, and to make things even worse for the girl, she has a crush on him.
 
The Supermarket is called Briteway's and in their marketing campaign they use a rodent called Briteway Billy. When supernatural occurrences begin in the store everyone believes an animal is responsible and it is christened Briteway Billy.
 
This is a very good story, but it is Pauline Quirk who steals the show and makes it as entertaining as it is, and as the programme progressed my feelings towards the character, Noreen, kept changing. At first I felt sorry for her and was outraged that people were treating her the way that they were. Then, by around the middle of the story, I became quite amused by her—there is a scene with some lipstick that is rather funny, if a little sad. Towards the end of the story I found Noreen quite a scary and intimidating girl. If I had to pick just one story from the Beasts series and say watch it, this would be the one.
 
 
 

WHAT BIG EYES

This, for me, was the worst of the bunch. I found the story totally pointless. The Central character is an RSPCA officer called Bob Curry. At the beginning of the story, Curry is investigating an importer of animals. He notices that, according to the importer's books, several wolves have been sold to a local pet shop. Curry is familiar with the pet shop and cannot imagine how they could have a market for wolves, so he believes that the entries are bogus and an attempt to flaunt quarantine laws. 
 
The lady at the pet shop insists Curry should speak to her father, and takes him upstairs to meet him. The father, who seems eccentric to say the least, confirms that he did indeed buy the animals and that they were properly quarantined. The real crux of the story though is what he has bought the wolves for.
 
Honestly, I'll say it again: I did not like this episode and found it totally pointless. I suppose I could recommend it for a laugh though. I don't want to give too much away, and wouldn't want to spoil things for anyone who might decide to watch the episode, so I won't say who died. There is a point im the story though, when someone dies and one character keeps saying that the person is dead. Another character disputes this. I sat watching this little scene in total disbelief. They were not dead. No doubt about it, they were alive. The blanket over their body kept rising and falling in perfect rhythm and, worse still, the camera remained fixed on the obviously breathing chest for most of the time. A little later on in the day the character who doubted the death accepts it as being fact.All life has departed and the corpse's chest is still visibly breathing to help prove this fact to the viewers at home. In real life I think, given the circumstances, the body would have been removed by that time and the police would have been asking a few choice questions. But hey, it's only TV.
 
 

DURING BARTY'S PARTY

"During Barty's Party" was supposedly Nigel Kneal's favourite episode and it is one of my favourites too.
 
The 'Barty's Party' referred to in the title is actually a radio show, but don't let that sway you into thinking the story is set in a radio station because it's not. It's set in a house in the country and it's about rats.
 
When watching "During Barty's Party" the viewer only gets to see two characters: husband and wife, Roger and Angie Truscott. Barty is the third character, but he is just a voice on the radio. Other characters include what sounds like a cast of thousands—all of them rats. Once again we only get to hear them. The thing is, even without seeing a single rat, the menace they present is still very apparent, and this is quite a scary episode.
 
At the very beginning of the story the camera shows the viewer and empty car. The radio is on, the keys are inside, and the car is still running. Then the screaming starts. This is what wakes up Angie, who has been asleep on the sofa and is looking rather nervous. When Roger gets home she has a record playing at high volume and is in a bit of a state. He turns the player off and removes the record that his wife has been playing to drown out the scratching noises coming from beneath the floor. Angie is unnerved by the rat beneath the floor, but Roger does not seem too worried, even though the family dog went after the rat earlier and did not return.
 

Beasts DVD

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When Roger speaks to a colleague on the phone, who mentions the mass rat migrations that have been reported in the area, he is still not worried. When Angie puts on the radio and Barty mrntions that thousands of king-sized rats have been witnessed crossing country roads and holding up the traffic, Roger puts on a brave face. As the scratching gets wore, however, and it becomes evident that there is am army of rats beneath their feet, Roger begins to see things differently.
 
 
Beasts DVD information:
 
Soundtrack:          mono.
Picture:                1.33:1
Subtitles:              none.
Running time:       approx 300 mins + extras.
Certificate (UK):   15 years and older.

 

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