Moondial (TV)
R2 - United Kingdom - Second Sight
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (8th June 2015).
The Show

When tragedy strikes 13-year-old Minty goes to stay with her Aunt Mary and discovers a magical secret within the grounds of the local mansion. When night time comes and the light of the moon falls on a sundial, Minty is transported back in time to the turn of the century where she discovers two children, Tom and Sarah, who have been troubled by evil forces and severe cruelty. Minty must overcome the spirits and possibly the devil himself in order to save the children.

Linking past and present, this wonderful six-part series is directed by Colin Cant and produced by Paul Stone. It was adapted for TV by Helen Cresswell from her own novel.


After the death of her father, Minty (played by Siri Neal) is brought to her Aunt Mary’s (played by Valerie Lush) home for the summer holidays by her widowed mother (played by Joanna Dunham). Tragedy strikes a second time soon after the mother drives away, as she is involved in a serious car accident and is hospitalized. With her father’s death and her mother in a deep coma, Minty’s life is going in a downward spiral. She does not feel like connecting with the local children, so her Aunt suggests to visit the friendly old man named World (played by Arthur Hewlett), who notices that Minty has something mystical and special, something that Minty herself believes. She has always had some sort of sixth sense and felt something unworldly when arriving at her Aunt’s house. Old man World is a groundskeeper at a large mansion nearby where Minty finds a sundial in the vast garden, which suddenly and mysteriously transports her back into the Victorian Era.

There she meets a young boy calling himself Tom (played by Tony Sands), who believes that Minty is a ghost, while Minty believes that he is a ghost. Although Tom is much younger and much smaller than Minty, he is working as a cook in the mansion, suffering from sickness and the harsh working conditions. When Minty jumps back to the present time, she is confused as to how she actually jumped back and forth, but she realizes it is somehow connected to the sundial, which is actually a “Moondial”. Minty also jumps back to a time further back than Tom’s era, in which Minty sees a tormented young girl named Sarah (played by Helena Avellano) who is called “The Devil Child” and harassed by children and the abusive handmaiden Miss Vole (played by Jacqueline Pearce). Seeing the state of what Tom and Sarah are going through, Minty makes it her quest to free the children from their hellish lives.

Writer Helen Cresswell was an author of more than 100 children’s books, and adapted many of her own works for television production. The novel of “Moondial” was published in 1987, and the BBC Children’s TV adaptation was aired in 1988 in 6 episode installments, and was rerun in 1990 but subsequently disappeared from television. Cresswell had also written the books and adapted for television "Lizzie Dripping", "Jumbo Spencer", and "The Secret World of Polly Flint". She died in 2005 at the age of 71.

Shot mainly on location at the grounds of Belton House in Lincolnshire, which had also been used in the 1995 TV series “Pride and Prejudice”, the vast gardens where everything feels timeless was a great location for a time travel story that goes back to the Victorian and prior eras. But since this was shot on standard definition PAL video, don’t expect the gorgeous gardens to look anything like a modern high definition production.

With the performances, it starts off a little hammy with the initial episode, with the overacting by Siri Neal playing Minty in which she yells, screams, and laughs hysterically, only to be slapped by her aunt. But from there onward, Neal brings an honest, broken, and serious performance to the part. The other child actors Tony Sands and Helena Avellano were pretty average in their parts, with nothing particularly great or particularly terrible about their performances. The acting that stood out the most (because she was trying to stand out the most) was Jacqueline Pearce who had the dual role of the creepy Ghost Hunter and the malicious housemaiden, in a similar tone to Cruella deVille from “101 Dalmatians” or Maleficent from “Sleeping Beauty”. It is never really clear about her character(s), whether they are 2 different people that the audience would find an eerie connection (like in “Peter Pan” in which the roles of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook are always played by the same actor), or if the 2 roles are in fact the same person, and like Minty she could time travel. But just like the plot point of how the time traveling worked, it was never explained fully.

The character of Minty is very reminiscent of the character of “Marnie” in the novel of “When Marnie Was There” (which was adapted into a film by Studio Ghibli), both have lost their parents, are exiling themselves from the real world, are transported mysteriously back to a time and encounter “ghosts” at an old mansion. Similar in themes, yet very different stories, “Moondial” takes a very tragic subject matter right from the start and makes it an adventure story in which the main character must overcome the tragedy, and learn to live with it while furthering her own life.

The cliffhangers at the end of each episode were both exciting and frustrating. If I had watched the series when it was first run, I would have gotten angry at each time the awkward stillframe ending came up and I had to wait another week to know the next part, but as this was adapted the way the chapters ended within the books, it makes sense. It's much better to have on DVD to jump directly to the next episode. Another negative point in the storytelling is that ome of the episodes move too slowly, while the final episode moves almost too quickly. Pacing could have been changed a little, but if that's how it was written, then what could be said?

Note this is a Region 2 PAL DVD. A region 2 or region free DVD player with PAL capability is required to playback the disc.

Video

The aspect ratio is in the original 1.33:1 standard TV size, in the PAL format. As the show was originally shot on standard definition PAL video format, there are no conversion problems. Don’t expect any revelations in video quality as it never looked that great to begin with. Colors are flat, detail is soft, but that’s what standard def video looks like. There are very minor instances of videotape error, but you’d have to look extremely carefully to find the faulty points. Nothing drastic enough to distract from the viewing. The opening and closing credits are shot on film, with live action and partial animation, and these scenes are from the video masters as well.

Overall, it doesn’t look great, but it looks as it should be.

Audio

There is only one audio track:

English Dolby Digital 2.0 dual mono

The audio fares well. Dialogue is clear and audible at all times, and the eerie orchestral casio tones of the soundtrack score by David Ferguson (who died in 2009) sounds fine, albeit a little dated.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the 6 episodes.

Extras

The episodes are as follows:

Episodes (with Play All function) (158:11)
- Episode 1 (28:16)
- Episode 2 (26:07)
- Episode 3 (25:51)
- Episode 4 (25:26)
- Episode 5 (25:18)
- Episode 6 (27:12)


For the extras, Second Sight has put together a good selection of retrospective material. First, there are two audio commentaries:

Audio commentary on Episode 1 by director Colin Cant. actress Siri Neal, and on-set tutor Jane Raleigh
Audio commentary on Episode 6 by director Colin Cant, actress Siri Neal, and on-set tutor Jane Raleigh


In both commentaries, Cant, Neal, and Raleigh are recorded together in a laid-back reminiscing mood. Cant recalls the shooting of the series being one of his best experiences as a director, the casting choices, and some of the visual tricks used in the making of the series. Neal talks about her childhood and post-“Moondial” life and easily makes fun of the fashion and old technology used, but has many positive fond memories from the set and beyond. Jane Raleigh was the tutor for the children on the production, but says very little during the commentary. At first, I wasn’t aware she was in the same commentary recording booth until suddenly I heard a third voice around 10 minutes in, which surprised me.

There are 2 new interviews, both done especially for this DVD release.

“Directing Moondial: An interview with director Colin Cant” (13:04)
Cant talks about the casting process, the 8 week shooting schedule, the beautiful weather and locations used, and has many fond memories of the production. Much of the material is repeated in the commentary but it is a great addition that Second Sight has done to include the director in the extras, as actress Siri Neal said that during a BFI screening a few years ago of “Moondial”, the staff there weren’t even sure if Cant was still alive or not.
In 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen

“Remembering Minty: An interview with actress Siri Neal” (14:00)
Neal discussed the auditioning, the sudden fame, and shows some behind the scenes photos and diary entries from her personal archive which she opens for the first time since 1988. She also discusses the importance of darker subject matter in children’s stories like the Grimm’s fairy tales, and how it is missing from children’s entertainment these days.
In 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen

Overall

“Moondial” was a children’s favorite of the time for many, but it was also hated by some for its dark nature. It is necessary for children to understand darkness in life is inevitable and it is important for them to know how to deal with serious issues like death, bullying, and having to stand up for what is right. The series is a little dated in setting and feeling so younger viewers now may have difficulty getting into it, but for nostalgic viewers it is recommended.

The Show: B- Video: C Audio: B Extras: B Overall: B-

 


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