Neverwhere

2013 BBC Radio adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s urban fantasy saga, told in 3.5 hrs over six episodes (the first ep. 1 hr long, the rest ½ hr long). I’ve often thought radio dramas are a good place to tell stories that would be hard to film, yet funnily a lot of BBC Radio series and plays often have already been done for TV or as movies (perhaps dating from the days when the BBC would sometimes re-do popular TV shows for radio and LP records at a time when a large portion of the population didn’t have TVs). In the case of Neverwhere it actually began as a TV mini-series in 1996, then became a novel, with an accompanying single voice audio book, a play and a comic book.

Still, with all those versions — this remains an excellent, engaging presentation (and there was some suggestion the TV series, which I haven’t seen, and though well regarded, suffered from the to-be-expected budget problems).

It’s adapted by Dirk Maggs, a radio producer whom I tend to be ambivalent about, as his productions often tend toward camp and pacing that can border on frenetic — but maybe here it was tempered because although he wrote the script and handled the sound design, it was actually directed by its producer, Heather Larmour. And it boasts a great cast, including James MacAvoy, Natalie Dormer, David Harewood, Anthony Head, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sophie Okonedo, Bernard Cribbins, Christopher Lee and others.

Richard (voiced by MacAvoy), a mild mannered Londoner, discovers a mystical world beneath the city streets — part refuge of the homeless, part mystical land of sentient rats, fallen angels, monsters and magic — a world of which no one in “London Above” is aware, and once Richard is drawn into it, he finds he’s literally become invisible to those he used to know. He ends up going on a quest with the Lady Door (Dormer) and various other eccentric characters, to discover why her family was murdered and why the killers are after her — and also in the hopes that Richard can return to his old life above.

It’s a deliberate mix of comedy and whimsy with danger, suspense and horror, and is both wildly imaginative and dreamlike at times — even as, at other times (for such a clearly successful property, given all its different media incarnations) it’s fairly obvious and clichéd in terms of concepts and ideas (from the somewhat contrived “quest” template, to referencing Lost Atlantis, to the comic-creepy villains who use big words and talk in mock formality, addressing each other as “Mister __”). But clichés are clichés because when done well, they work — and they’re done well here. Indeed, one could argue the familiarity of some aspects is part of the appeal.

As well, I suspect a part of the point of the story was to Romanticize London itself, scenes taking place in (or referencing) real London locations (or fantasy versions of them).

Ultimately, engrossing and atmospheric — the sort of story that, given the required sets and effects, and TV version accepted, is well suited to a “movie in your mind” presentation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *