Yet more revenant TV drama. Seems like everything turns up if eventually so long as you’re prepared to wait. I’d looked for this film a couple of times after writing about TV director David Wheatley. The Magic Toyshop (1987) was a feature-length Granada Television adaptation of Angela Carter’s 1967 novel, with Wheatley directing and Carter herself supplying the screenplay. Caroline Milmoe plays Melanie, a teenage girl left in the care of her Uncle Philip after she and her younger brother and sister are orphaned. Tom Bell plays the sinister uncle who owns the toyshop of the title, a place where the toys, puppets and automata are as lively as JF Sebastian’s menagerie in Blade Runner. Melanie’s younger uncles, Finn and Francie, live in fear of the tyrannical Philip who forces them to assist with his life-size puppet shows, while Melanie’s aunt Margaret is not only cowed by her husband but also mute. The arrival of Melanie and her growing sexual awareness upsets the household’s balance of power.
It was good to see this film again having recently watched David Wheatley’s René Magritte film and his marvellous Borges documentary. In light of those earlier works an adaptation of Angela Carter would seem a natural progression. Aside from an overly-emphatic score, The Magic Toyshop was better than I remembered, the initial viewing no doubt suffering from an expectation that it might be a match for The Company of Wolves (1984). The Granada film had a much lower budget than Neil Jordan’s feature so it’s an unfair comparison. Wheatley and co. saved money with some careful use of the Baker Street set from Granada’s Sherlock Holmes adaptations.
Watching The Magic Toyshop now it’s surprising it was made at all, it’s an odd piece of work stippled throughout with surreal moments, and even Surrealist references, as with Finn’s Loplop-like appearance above. What drama there is refuses the familiar shapes that a TV audience would expect, and there’s also a surprising amount of incestuous desire boiling among the major characters that goes unquestioned. I’ve not read Carter’s novel so I can’t say how it compares but the film feels like a very pure delivery of the author’s landscape of entwined sexuality, fantasy and myth. The Magic Toyshop hasn’t been reissued on DVD so the YouTube version is from a tape copy. It’s also chopped into chunks (why, oh, why, etc) but it’s highly recommended to Angela Carter readers.