The first episode of Children of the Stones was broadcast on ITV in 1977.
ITV in general (and HTV in particular) were on something of roll when it came to spooky children’s television dramas during the 1970’s. Children of the Stones was a strong entry on that roll call, and is still remembered by many with a shudder of unease.
Written by Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray and with a cast including Gareth Thomas, Iain Cuthbertson and Freddie Jones, it stands up today very well. For a relatively obscure programme, it’s enjoyed something of a rebirth in recent years – there was a 2012 Radio 4 documentary, a reprint of the original novelisation as well as a new sequel book (also written by Burnham and Ray), audiobook readings by Gareth Thomas and a new audio adaptation in 2020, which is still available as a podcast.
The first episode of The Price was broadcast on Channel 4 in 1985.
A six part serial, featuring fine lead performances from Peter Barkworth and Harriet Walter, I’ve previously reviewed it here. For a short while a few years back, Simply Media dug into the Channel 4 archives and came up with a fair few items of interest – this being one.
The Firefly Cage, the first episode of Lovejoy, was broadcast on BBC1 in 1986.
Developed for television by Ian La Frenais from the novels by Jonathan Gash, the tv Lovejoy lacked the rough corners of the literary original – in the hands of Ian McShane, Lovejoy was simply a loveable rogue rather than being an underhand and unscrupulous one. I haven’t dipped into the series for a while, but when I do I tend to go for this first run (which although successful, wasn’t followed up for another five years).
The Firefly Cage is a decent set up episode, with all the regulars introduced effectively as well as an alluring performance from Kim Thomson as Nicola Paige, the first of many femme fatales to cross Lovejoy’s path.
Also debuting today – Nanny, The District Nurse, Charters and Caldicott (reviewed here) and Constant Hot Water. If Constant Hot Water is remembered at all, it’s only because it was Pat Phoenix’s last series (although her final transmitted television performance was in an episode Unnatural Causes). Maybe one day Constant Hot Water will resurface, hopefully so as I’d be curious to see how she worked with a studio audience.
Geoffrey Carr (Peter Barkworth) might be a successful businessman (he’s a key player in the burgeoning computer industry) but his private life is far less straightforward. Recently married to Frances (Harriet Walter), their relationship is best described as testy. Possibly due to the fact that she’s much younger than he is, they struggle to find any common ground whilst Claire (Frances’ headstrong teenage daughter from a previous marriage) is a further complication.
Geoffrey dutifully continues trying to please Frances though – even going to the expense of buying a crumbling Georgian house in the place where she grew up – County Wicklow, Ireland.
But the mid eighties is a period when the Troubles were at their height and as a wealthy Briton he proves to be an irresistible target. Frank Crossan (Derek Thompson), an IRA killer on the run, teams up with an idealistic teacher called Kate (Aingeal Grehan). Their plan is simple – kidnap Frances and Clare and demand a hefty ransom from Geoffrey. The resolution is far more complex though ….
Broadcast in six episodes during early 1985. The Price boasts strong performances from all the major players. It should go without saying that Peter Barkworth (1926 – 2006) is exemplary as Geoffrey, a man caught between the twin pincers of police interference and the machinations of high finance. Barkworth rarely, if ever, gave a bad performance and Geoffrey is a typically layered creation.
It would be easy enough for Geoffrey – a self-centered but essentially decent man – to be portrayed in a fairly one-note manner, but Barkworth’s nuanced performance essays something much more subtle and ultimately much more satisfying.
Harriet Walter (b. 1950) continues to enjoy a very successful career (The Crown and Star Wars: The Force Awakens are amongst her recent credits). Frances is introduced as something of a contradictory person – she admits that she married Geoffrey for his money, but gets upset whenever he attempts to do any work. But once she’s kidnapped her character goes through a radical transformation.
An interesting piece of casting, in retrospect, saw the fourteen year old Susanna Reid playing Clare. This was her only television acting role (during the last fifteen years or so she’s become a very recognisable British television face – first as a newsreader and then as a breakfast television host).
Derek Thompson may have seemingly been playing the level-headed Charlie Fairhead in Casualty since the dawn of recorded time, but prior to checking into Holby City back in 1986 he essayed a variety of roles on both sides of the law. He was a regular on The Gentle Touch between 1980 and 1982 (as DS Jimmy Fenton) but during the late seventies and the early to mid eighties he could often be found playing baddies (The Long Good Friday, The Wild Geese 2 and – of course – The Price). Since Thompson was born in Belfast, the role of Frank Crossan gave him a rare opportunity to drop back into the Irish idiom.
Familiar faces such as Simon Jones, Hugh Fraser and Adrian Dunbar are welcome additions to the cast.
The opening scenes of the first episode intercuts between Frances (trying on expensive jewellery in a swanky shop) and Frank (holed up in a house on a graffiti-ridden estate, picking off British soldiers with a high powered rifle). That they live in two totally different worlds is immediately obvious but the intercutting hammers the point home.
Early on we get a sense of the tensions that exist between Geoffrey and Frances. “I can’t stand you” she screams. Barkworth’s ability to express a world of hurt with a single expression is put to good use here.
The closing scene of the first episode explodes in a burst of violence as Frances and Clare are snatched from their car by a posse of masked raiders. Kate may have been initially presented as someone keen to pursue the struggle for Irish independence peacefully, but here she’s keen for Frank to shoot a fleeing child who witnessed the kidnapping. As Frank, a hardened IRA man, couldn’t bring himself to fire, it’s a character moment that should be filed away for later.
Old computer hands will probably appreciate the opening few moments of episode two. Not only are there some chunky PCs on display but there’s also the slow, but steady, report of a dot matrix printer. It’s printing out news of Frances and Clare’s kidnap (this is a neat way of recapping the events of episode one without having to spell it out verbally).
As the pressure begins to mount, Barkworth excels as Geoffrey – a fundamentally decent man – is pushed and pulled in numerous directions. The police advise him not to pay the ransom – at least not at first – but how can he refuse when lives are at stake? Lansbury (Simon Jones) and Simon (David Lyon) are both on hand to help and advise (Lansbury works for Geoffrey’s company, Simon is an insurance man and a kidnap specialist).
But even if he wants to pay the ransom, how can he afford it? He’s simply not as wealthy as the kidnappers believe him to be and if he attempts to unfreeze his assets or sell any shares then he faces the possibility of losing control of his company. Does he love his wife and step-daughter that much? As the title states, is he prepared to pay the price?
The grim surroundings that Frances and Claire find themselves in (plus Claire’s asthma attacks) makes their incarceration even more of a nightmare. They at least have each other for company, but things are far from easy. Walter and Reid shine during these scenes, especially since the relationship between mother and daughter is very fluid – one minute loving, the next combative.
As the serial wears on and Frances becomes grimier and more desperate, so the tension begins to ramp up even more. Her transformation – from spoilt society queen to a hardened fighter – is a highlight of the latter part of the story, thanks to Harriet Walter’s performance (in the last few episodes things get especially dark for Frances).
The twisted relationship which can often exist between captor and captive is well drawn out too. Frank despises Frances and all she stands for … and yet. On her side, she’s content to play along with his mood swings – she’ll do anything if it means she can guarantee freedom for herself and Clare. Meanwhile, Geoffrey and his team are making their way to the rendezvous point with the money whilst the police attempt to follow ….
Needless to say, things don’t go to plan and the concluding episode develops into a tense stand-off between the kidnappers and the police. The violence, when it comes, is short and ugly. This occurs about fifteen minutes from the end, which then leaves ample time for those left alive to reflect on events.
An all-film production, picture-wise The Price is in a pretty good condition. The unrestored prints obviously show dirt and damage but it’s comparable to other releases of a similar vintage.
Despite being six episodes long, The Price never feels drawn out. Peter Barkworth, Harriet Walter and Derek Thompson all excel whilst the supporting cast provides solid support. A taut character-based drama, The Price grips throughout and comes highly recommended.
The Price is released on the 15th of April 2018, RRP £24.99 by Simply Media. It can be ordered directly from Simply here.