Legendary land lends itself to flights of fantasy
A couple of weeks ago I spent my Saturday evening charging around the historic sites of Plymouth on a hunt for the city's "legendary" Lost Pearl in a hugely enjoyable and innovative theatrical multimedia game experience called Resurgam.
My fellow explorers and I were working on the premise that the missing gem had originated in the mythological island of Atlantis which is reputed to have sunk into the ocean centuries ago... and its inhabitants were harnessing its magical powers once again.
That's the brilliant thing about myths and legends – you can stretch and embellish their stories as far as you like and create the most weird and wonderful fantasies without fear of upsetting serious historians.
Two weeks on I found myself in a much more passive role watching the first episode of the BBC's new drama series Atlantis (BBC One) which started with the kind of quest that begs for plenty of special camera effects and editing tricks.
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A handsomely troubled young man named Jason (Jack Donnelly) stood on the deck of a diving ship preparing for a dangerous descent to the ocean floor in a solo mission to discover what happened to his father, who disappeared without trace on a dive in the same area.
Down Jason went in his little submarine bubble, like Alice down the rabbit hole, tumbling through turbulence to wash up naked and rather wobbly on the beach of an alien land. Luckily there are clothes and shoes for him to steal on the beach and a walled city a short walk away.
So began a classic Brit-style high-energy, time-travel adventure, purely entertaining rather than challenging, and with its tongue-in-cheek sense of humour fully charged.
Jason buddied up with clever young Pythagoras – "how did you know I was thinking about triangles?" and the chunky, rather overbearing Hercules. Together they set off to quiz the mysterious starey-eyed Oracle (a whispering Juliet Stevenson). She told him his father was dead; I'm betting she could turn out to be Jason's long-lost mother, based on her line: "It will be much safer for him if he doesn't know who he really is."
Meanwhile the trio were being closely watched by the glamorous and scheming queen Pasiphae (Sarah Parish), who seems to regard Jason as a rival. Before the episode was done he'd found his first love interest and slayed the fearsome Minotaur, revealing its hidden identity... or was that just a red herring? It romped along at a fair pace and most of the elements were there, but the script, dialogue and mood were a bit lightweight for Saturday night viewing. It would be ideal family viewing for late afternoon on a Sunday, methinks.
It did, however, whet my appetite for far-fetched escapism and derring-do, and Whitechapel (Wednesday, ITV1) was just the ticket. It just gets stranger and stranger all the time; this first part of the final two-parter in the series was spooky, gory and scary in the extreme – and thoroughly compelling.
I'm talking disembowelled bodies left to rot in the deep, dark, smelly sewers beneath the city; pig intestines strung from the rafters; nice people being dragged off the streets down manholes; eerie shadows in twisting stairwells and a threatened suicide up on the roof.
It taps brilliantly into the blurred boundaries between fantasy and reality in a modern-day world that carries haunting echoes of the past. Rupert Penry-Jones is marvellous as the vulnerable Det Insp Chandler, leading his oddball team underground, and Phil Davis, as his sidekick DS Ray Miles, can do no wrong in my book.
I make no apology for mentioning the splendid Peaky Blinders (BBC One, Thursday) again. I'm still loving its boldness, its characters and its style as the gangsters of 1919 Birmingham pursue their crooked lives.