Children of the Stones

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“Pretty phantasmagorical!” says precocious teenager Matthew when he and his father drive into the fictional village of Milbury in the opening scene of Children of the Stones. Matthew’s father is a scientist whose work requires a three-month stay in a village built in the centre of a series of ancient ramparts and stone circles. Once settled they find many of the villagers to be blandly cheerful, while Matthew discovers that his maths skills at the local school pale beside younger children who can solve complex equations with ease. Omnipresent characters in the village are Hendrick, a retired astronomer who owns the local manor house and acts as village squire, Margaret, a newly-arrived archaeologist who knows the history of the stones, and Dai, a vagrant poacher who lives outside the circle, and who seems eager to remain free of the Stepford-like happiness afflicting his neighbours.

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Matthew (Peter Demin).

Matthew’s “phantasmagorical” epithet is directed at the neolithic mound outside the village but could easily apply to the whole of this seven-part serial which I watched again recently. It was an HTV production first broadcast in early 1977 and I’d not seen any of it since that time. A mystery serial for children involving pagan history, folk rituals and an undercurrent of science fiction wasn’t such a surprising thing in the 1970s, this was a decade when a popular interest in the occult and the paranormal was more prevalent than at any time before or since. Children’s television reflected adult trends which is why we got to see an adaptation of Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, the occult adventure series Ace of Wands (with its hero named “Tarot”), The Tomorrow People (which occasionally strayed from science fiction to science fantasy) and others (see an earlier post, Occultism for kids). Children of the Stones was the most complex of all of these, a well-crafted drama with similarities to Nigel Kneale’s TV plays, The Wicker Man and The Prisoner. With a slight change of emphasis it would have worked just as well as a serial for adults. The best children’s serials of the period were usually adaptations of novels; Children of the Stones was an original work for television, written by Jeremy Burnham & Trevor Ray, and directed by Peter Graham Scott.

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Adam (Gareth Thomas), Margaret (Veronica Strong) and Hendrick (Iain Cuthbertson).

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The music of The Wicker Man

wicker_man.jpgLeft: The scarce first edition of the Hamlyn novelisation. From the Coulthart library.

I realised some years ago that all my favourite films have great soundtracks, almost without exception. Something about the blend of drama and well-chosen music really excites me, so it’s no surprise that The Wicker Man would appeal, having as it does a wonderful folk soundtrack. Nice to see from the discussion that follows how influential this soundtrack has been although I’m surprised they didn’t mention the multiple cover versions of Willow’s Song. Once again Hollywood has seen fit to gift us with a completely redundant cover version of their own; the less said about the imminent remake, the better.

‘It was a way into a magical world’
The Wicker Man is the unlikely inspiration to a new generation of British folk musicians. So we put the film’s musical fans in a room with its director to discuss its enduring appeal. By Will Hodgkinson.

Will Hodgkinson
Friday July 21, 2006
The Guardian

ONE OF THE unlikeliest motivating factors in the current wave of new British folk music is a horror movie from three decades ago. The Wicker Man, the story of an upright Christian police officer investigating the disappearance of young girl on the Scottish island of Summerisle, and stumbling across a pagan cult, is hardly a masterpiece. But it has endured as a cult classic because it is unique, fascinating and evocative. Its folk-based soundtrack and use of ancient rituals and mythology have made it the focal point for a new generation of British musicians. So, as the gods of creation poured golden light into a sacred hall (a meeting room at the Guardian) on a summer afternoon, we assembled a handful of Wicker Man-obsessed musicians to discuss the film’s influence with its director, Robin Hardy.

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