Century Falls Review
While her father is away on business, Tess Hunter (Catherine Sanderson) and her pregnant mother (Heather Baskerville) move to the small isolated village of Century Falls. Overweight and lonely, Tess is surprised to find out that there are just two other children in the village. These are the twins Ben (Simon Fenton) and Carey (Emma Jane Lavin) Naismith, who are strange to say the least. Century Falls is a village with a secret, hiding a tragedy in its past…
Over Christmas 2006, the BBC showed two one-off SF pieces written or cowritten by Russell T. Davies. One was of course the Christmas Special of Doctor Who, “The Runaway Bride” while the other was the pilot for The Sarah Jane Adventures, a spin-off series aimed specifically at children featuring the former Who companion, played as ever by Elisabeth Sladen. Also, the for-adults spin-off Torchwood, which Davies had created and written the opening episode of, had recently completed its run. I don’t think I’m alone in finding The Sarah Jane Adventures the best of the three. I’m not a fan of Catherine Tate at the best of times, but I found her completely charmless in the titular, guest-companion role in “The Runaway Bride”. And I’d given up on Torchwood after a few episodes. I’ll go along with the comment that it had a fourteen-year-old’s idea of what made an “adult” series – ooh, sex and gore! And someone says “fuck” in the opening five minutes! I’ve been an admirer of Davies’s work for some time: you’ll find reviews for Queer as Folk, Bob & Rose and The Second Coming elsewhere on this site. The last of those remains, in my opinion, his best work to date. But watching his earliest TV writing, Dark Season and now this, shows that Davies has always had a natural flair for writing for children. Writing for that age range without being patronising or otherwise writing down is not as easy as some would think. Neither of these two early BBC children’s drama serials is amongst Davies’s very best work – he was still on a learning curve at the time – but are well worth a look all the same.
Dark Season had been a success so Davies was commissioned to write a follow-up. The earlier serial had really been two three-parters joined together, and the idea for Century Falls had its origins as a third set of three episodes. But Davies expanded it to six, the result being quite independent of the early serial. As Century Falls was intended for a slightly later children’s slot – 5.15pm instead of 4.45pm, we’re into darker, more complex territory. Most people won’t find this unduly scary – that PG certificate is quite appropriate – though parents of younger and/or more sensitive children should probably check it out before letting them see it.
Davies’s story is tightly organised, taking place over three days, two episodes per day. His narrative is quite sophisticated, spending a couple of episodes setting up mysteries and assuming that the audience can keep up to speed without over-explanation. I’ve mentioned before that a frequent strong point of Davies’s writing are his women (and gay men – he’s less good with straight men), and especially mother figures. Another plus is an entirely non-stereotypical heroine. Tess is fat, there’s no way of avoiding the issue – other characters say as much to her face. Davies doesn’t avoid it either: we first see her sneaking a midnight feast from the fridge. Nowadays, with public campaigns against obesity, particularly in children, there would be no way that the Davies would be allowed to have a fat girl as a heroine. But it works, in the same way as a plumpish, too-clever-for-her-own-good Marcie Hatter was a wonderful heroine in Dark Season. (If that were remade today, it’s a fair bet that Kate Winslet’s character would be the lead.) Colin Cant’s direction can’t avoid a flat video look, but it has its inventive touches – look at the Gathering sequence in Episode Two, which superimposes one 360° pan over another one in the reverse direction. There are eye-catching performances from the older cast members, particularly Georgine Anderson, Mary Wimbush and (in a virtually wordless role) Eileen Way in her final screen appearance before her death in 1994. On the other hand, despite some nice lines in the script too many characters – Tatiana Strauss’s Julia being a prime example – are saddled with the kind of over-formal portentous dialogue that signifies alienness, demonic possession or general not-of-this-Earthness.
Century Falls has its flaws, but its images stick in the mind, and it seems to have made a big impression on those who saw it back in 1993. Short of access to the BBC archive, this DVD is the first opportunity to see it since then.
2 Entertain’s DVD of Century Falls is, as usual for this distributor, encoded for Regions 2 and 4. As this is a TV production from the pre-widescreen era, the aspect ratio is 1.33:1 as you might expect. Its video origins are obvious, with a softish picture with the lines becoming visible at times. That said, this was a programme made at a time when large and progressive-scan televisions were very much things of the future. There’s nothing otherwise wrong with the picture if you can make allowances for its origins.
However, stereo sound on television had certainly arrived by 1993, and Century Falls would have been broadcast in NICAM Stereo, which becomes Dolby 2.0 (Dolby Surround) on this DVD. There’s not much use of the surround channel though, apart from the music. The six episodes can be selected singly, and there is a “play all” function.
There are no extras on the disc. Presumably a retrospective feature wasn’t considered ,justifiable, though I’m sure a good one would have been appreciated by this DVD’s likely cult-TV audience. Davies has done some good commentaries in tandem with other people and it’s a pity there isn’t one here. The only extra in the package is a booklet containing some detailed production notes by Andrew Pixley (though note the prominent spoiler warning – don’t read these notes before watching the serial) a cast listing and transmission details.
7 out of 10
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