Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Review: The Children of the Stones (1977)

The Children of the Stones (1977) directed by Peter Graham Scott

The Children of the Stones is a British children's miniseries (seven half-hour episodes) not produced by the BBC, but by one of the forerunners of ITV. Made in the late 1970s, it features the sort of clothes and hairdos you'd expect from the time. The story itself has a bit of timelessness about it and the show makes for entertaining watching even now, 35 years later.

An astrophysicist, Adam Brake, comes to the town of Milbury to fulfill a grant studying magnetic fields at the local neolithic monuments. The town has a stone circle that dates back to at least 3000 BC. The circle is enormous--it encloses the whole town.

He's a widower and has brought his only son Matthew, who is prone to psychic visions of the past, present, and future They drive into town with some typical father-son banter. All of the sudden, there's an old women in the road. They break quickly and discover that she is the caretaker of their bed and breakfast. The local lord told her they were arriving and she had come out to greet them. At least that's her explanation. The lord comes to visit and seems a little odd. The local people also are rather quaint, always greeting one another with "Happy day!" Small town friendliness comes off a bit creepy and it's not just unfamiliarity with local customs.

Another recent arrival is Margaret, a widow with a daughter about Matthew's age. They've been here for a while and feel a little isolated since they are not part of the "Happy Day" crew. She's curator of the local museum and knows a bit of folklore about the stones, including that they are the center of 53 different lay lines (which are lines between various neolithic sites that are claimed to have psychic energy running along them). There are 53 stones still standing in the circle. And now 53 citizens of Milbury since Adam and Matthew have arrived. Cue the creepy music.

The music is one of the distinctive features of the show. The score is dominated by spooky chanting that uses groans, moans, shrieks, and a wordless soprano line to enhance the atmosphere. It seems a little heavy-handed at times but is effective. It also mirrors the prehistoric mysteriousness of what's going on.

The visuals are uneven. The production is from the 1970s--the interiors are videotaped on sound stages and the exteriors are filmed in the town of Avebury (which has a real, ancient, and enormous stone circle around it). The difference is noticeable but I found I was able to tune it out. The special effects are few and far between--some work well, others are a bit low tech.

On the other hand, the performances are uniformly good. Given the science fiction and horror elements, a few performances and reactions are stylized but it fits the story. Even though it was made as a children's show, the actors take it seriously.

Like the best of children's entertainment, the show is also entertaining for adults as well. The story is well told, intelligent, and challenging. The science is accurate enough without being difficult to follow. The mystery of the town is slowly if not completely revealed, making it intriguing watching the first time. The ending is a bit ambiguous but of the sort that makes for interesting discussions (rather than frustrating bewilderment). And when I watched it a second time, I noticed a lot more of the details foreshadowing what would happen. It's much like watching The Sixth Sense a second time. Children of the Stones isn't as good as The Sixth Sense, but it does fall in a similar genre and would be enjoyed by the same fans.

You can watch the first episode on YouTube:

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