Friday, September 23, 2016

Children of the Stones ( 1977 )

In January 1977, the BBC aired the first episode of an engrossing seven-part children's miniseries entitled Children of the Stones. This program, destined to become one of the most highly regarded British television series ever made, gave its audience gigantic goose-pimples, and inspired decade-lasting nightmares in youngsters. Even its title sequence, a series of photographs featuring neolithic monuments shot at jarring angles with unsettling background choral vocalizations, scared away the faint-at-heart.
But those who turned off their television set would have missed a truly entertaining series, one that stands as a testament to the compelling power of a good script well-acted.

Its story centers around Milbury, a quaint English village, whose inhabitants are held in curious captivity by the psychic forces that appear to be generated by the huge circle of neolithic stones surrounding the village. One by one, newcomers to the "circle" fall victim to a state of hypnosis, awaking with an overwhelming sense of happiness.

Astrophysicist Professor Adam Brake ( Gareth Thomas ), and his young son Matthew ( Peter Denim ), a budding scientist himself, have come to secluded Milbury to study electromagnetivity on the surviving 53 stones of the ancient stone circle. Once inside its boundaries, Professor Brake and his son discover that the village is a center of power which proves much easier to enter than leave, and that they must use the strength of pure mathematics and modern science to battle the forces of age-old mysticism and rural legend in order to escape.

"I deny the existence of that which exists"

Margaret ( Veronica Strong ), curator of the local museum, is also a newcomer to the village along with her daughter Sandra ( Katherine Levy ). She warns the professor that he will soon feel very alone here as the residents are an odd bunch, seemingly divided into regular people and inhumanly docile "Happy Ones". Margaret and Sandra find allies in Adam and Matthew and decide to work together to discover the secret behind Milbury's mysterious power.

Similarly to Invasion of the Body Snatchers ( 1956 ) and the television series The Invaders ( 1967 ), it is difficult to distinguish those who have been transformed from those who have not except for the presence of a small sign. In Milbury, it is the peaceful spirit of happiness that is engulfing the villagers and those that once were outsiders greet one another with "Happy day!", boasting an extremely high intellect, the power to read minds, and the desire to live harmoniously. These are virtues in themselves, but our principal characters fear they will be sucked into a world where individuality and the freedom to inquire have been permanently dispelled.

This mysterious power of Milbury seems to be controlled by one of the village's most prominent citizens, Rafael Hendrick ( Ian Cuthbertson ), a former astronomer and the discoverer of an imploded star, a so-called "black hole", which lies at the heart of this complex mystery. Hendrick has since crossed the realm of egocentricity, becoming a high priest to an unknown celestial force with the task of "harvesting" the citizens of Milbury to dance around ancient ritual sites and become mindless worshipers to an unusual shaft of light. He instantly recognizes the questioning scientific minds of the Brakes as being a threat to the peaceful villager's existence. However, he is confident that his secret will remain undiscovered long enough for him to change them into "happy ones" as well.

Children of the Stones is an oddity among children programming because, while it was aimed towards an after-school audience, it featured some thought-provoking subject matter with themes of parallel time-warps and eternal return. The serial was made on location at Avebury, site of a 5,000 year old sun temple, and at Bristol Studios.

Peter Graham Scott, who had a long-history in television working on episodes of Danger Man and The Avengers during the 1960s, produced and directed Children of the Stones. Those who are familiar with the Quatermass series will recognize echoes of Nigel Kneale's work in Trevor Ray and Jeremy Burnham's script. These writers must be given credit for not oversimplifying their story for its juvenile audience. 

This serial was made at a time when ITV was turning out top-notch entertainment. Special effects and production design were next to nothing, but they are entirely unnecessary when a good script is created and excellent actors are on hand to perform it. Veronica Strong ( wife of co-author Jeremy Burnham ) and her daughter gave the story an extra romantic angle for the more mature teens to enjoy and it is their presence in the story that creates the emotional drama at the climax. Also in the cast is Freddie Jones, Ruth Dunning, and June Barry. 

American audiences did not experience the thrill of Children of the Stones until 1983, when the program aired on Nickelodeon's The Third Eye television series. It has since earned cult classic status as one of the most frightening children's series ever filmed...even though the story element, itself, is not very terrifying.

Currently, the entire Children of the Stones miniseries is available for viewing on Youtube via this link. 

2 comments:

  1. I think I'd love this! Thanks for the recommendation...and I see that, for the moment, it's on YouTube. The plot sounds a little similar to the last Quatermass serial with John Mills.

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    1. Yes, I think it's right up your alley, Rick. It is VERY similar to Quatermass, also you'll recognize shades of The Wicker Man. Thank you for the reminder about the Youtube link...I had meant to include it in the post and forgot! Someone was nice enough to post the entire series online and it is a sharp and clear transfer. Let me know what you thought of the series after you watch it.

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