Chocky - Reviews By Tim Harris
Second Sight have recently released all three serials of the sci-fi TV series made in the 1980's.
(Region 0) (Audio: Mono) (Aspect Ratio: 4:3)
CHOCKY - 1983 (Includes the odd spoiler or two)
Id read John Wyndhams least-admired book Chocky several years before the 1983 television serial appeared and found the serial to be less impressive than the book upon which it was inspired. I was 18 when it was broadcast and compared it to serials from the 70s: Children Of The Stones, The Changes and Sky in particular. They had been intelligent, dark childrens serials that were very adult in nature, whilst Chocky seemed a bland, almost 'happy' version of what I had considered a foreboding, mysterious book. I thought the serial as nothing compared to the book it had been based upon and as a poor relation to the classic serials already mentioned.
Whilst I rushed to obtain the release of Children Of The Stones, I could barely hold back scorn on the release of Chocky: this was a bland serial, why not release any of the classic serials that us 30/40 somethings would surely remember with far more interest/affection?
Over time, something somewhere made me decide to buy the DVD, despite feeling that doing so was highly irrational in view of my feelings towards the serial. I began to watch it. What followed was 6 viewing nights of immense surprise, pleasure and excitement, with a growing awareness that I had missed everything that was good about that serial all those years ago.
The story is highly consistent with that of the book: in fact it is probably the most accurate adaptation of any John Wyndham novel to date. One or two aspects of the book have been altered for the serial though, such as Chocky taking form instead of merely talking through Matthew, yet this only makes the whole serial more believable. Rubiks cubes are in evidence as are computer games in order to place the series in the decade it was made.
Whilst Chocky does not manifest himself / herself very often (both in the book or serial), it is the impact that he/she has on both Matthew Gore and his family that sustains tension throughout. The fear that Matthews mother (Carol Drinkwater) feels towards Chocky is utterly real and convincing whilst James Hazeldine is sublime as Matthews father, a man who is both scared but immensely fascinated by Matthews apparent possession.
Andrew Ellams is astonishing as the boy visited by Chocky: he is a very natural actor who conveys an amazing range of acting abilities with the same professionalism as the best adult actors. It is clear that (for such a young actor at the time) he clearly understood how any given scene should be acted and he is very intense in his portrayal. Many child actors would have simply spoke the lines but there is a belief in his portrayal of Matthew.
I would also point out that episode six is a marvel to behold: James Hazeldine has a very long scene with Matthew/Chocky that convinces me that the (sadly passed away) man was a greater actor than Id previously given him credit for. The scene itself is expertly handled in both directorial terms and script terms: Hazeldine gives an immensely mesmerising performance when talking to, and coming to a definite belief in, Chocky. Andrew Ellams is also fantastic in this scene, utterly compelling to watch. This kind of scene would never turn up in a serial made today: lasting between 9 and 10 minutes it would be considered too long for todays audiences, yet it never lets up both in tension and anticipation. This for me makes this series rise above the norm for a childrens serial. It is truly sad when Chocky says goodbye.
Having said all that, there is still a feeling within me that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but having re-read the book (since watching the serial on DVD), I can only say that I think that of the book too.
I only regret that James Hazeldine did not play a significant role in the following serials, Chockys Children and Chockys Challenge, as he gives an overwhelming sense of authenticity to this particular serial: he stamps an indelible impression upon the viewer with a believable and real performance, never condescending or patronising to the (childrens tea-time) audience at which it was aimed.
The theme tune has grown on me a lot since watching the DVD, at first it appears a simple arrangement but in fact it emphasises the mystery surrounding Chocky: it is highly atmospheric.
The DVD interview with Anthony Read (who wrote the adaptation) is very interesting to watch too, though Id also like to have seen interviews with cast members, particularly Andrew Ellams.
For anyone who, (like me, prior to watching the DVD release), remembers this 1983 serial as being bland and insignificant, who hesitates whether to buy this serial or not, I can only say dont hesitate, buy it, theres nothing like it being made in this age: it is a far deeper, intelligent serial than you remember it to be, and you will never doubt that you made the right decision in buying it. It is as classic a serial as Children Of The stones The Changes, Sky and all the others that are generally remembered with greater affection.
CHOCKY'S CHILDREN - 1984 (Includes the odd spoiler or two)
Absorbing tale in which Matthew meets a girl, Albertine (Anabel Worrell), who is telepathic. Chocky helps the two of them when a scientist wants to study Albertine.
A very good sequel to the first serial, though sadly James Hazeldine only appears briefly. Still, when he appears, he is more than welcome.
Andrew Ellams has already aged a fair bit from the first serial and puts in another good performance. Anabel Worrell is a welcome addition to the cast and her character Albertine complements Andrew Ellams' introspective character of Matthew. Matthew gives Albertine support and enough space for her to bring out her own character, and they work well together.
Chocky's appearances are kept to a good minimum and this helps give her a deeper air of mystery.
I definitely recommend this sequel, it's worthy of the first serial and kept me utterly hooked from start to end.
CHOCKY'S CHALLENGE - 1985 (Includes the odd spoiler or two)
The third, final and weakest of the three 'Chocky' serials. Sadly, Andrew Ellams makes what is effectively a cameo appearance in the first and last episodes and this makes for a disappointing story based around Albertine and other Chocky-associated children. Anabel Worrell is still a good actress but the serial misses her interaction with Ellams' Matthew. Having said that, the first episode is very good and the cliffhanger had me gasping out loud in surprise.
The serial concerns Chocky's attempts to teach the children scientific advances that will revolutionise Earth, and of the military's interest in the children. It's okay, it's not great, but at least Matthew arrives at the end to lend a helping hand.
James Hazeldine has even less of a role in this series but it's good to see him all the same.
Don't misunderstand me, I still enjoyed this serial, though I recommend this one only if you see the first two. I feel there should have been more 'Chocky' serials.