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Moonfleet, Sky1 | reviews, news & interviews

Moonfleet, Sky1

Moonfleet, Sky1

J Meade Falkner's much-loved smuggler's tale doesn't quite feel at home on the telly

Ha-harrr me hearties! Mystery, contraband and not enough screen time for Ray Winstone (left), Aneurin Barnard and Sophie Cookson

They've had Ray Winstone all over Sky this Christmas, gamely plugging this new dramatisation of J Meade Falkner's rumbustious crowd-pleaser, Moonfleet. Ray's theme is that we urgently need more quality drama with broad appeal on TV and shouldn't keep relying on worn-out cliches about drug dealers and murderers.

His character in Moonfleet, smuggler and pub landlord Elzevir Block, is from the hard-but-fair school, prepared to fight it out with the men from the Revenue but also capable of unbending loyalty and protective, fatherly feelings towards the orphaned John Trenchard.

Winstone is the best thing about this production, marshalling his West Country smuggling gang with a nonchalant aura of menace and letting his lines rumble up from deep within, as if they've been marinated in a pungent elixir of rum, molasses and gunpowder. He handles a flintlock pistol like a veteran of the Peninsular War.

Aneurin Barnard is faintly anaemic as young Trenchard, but Sophie Cookson adds a squirt of pouting pertness to love interest - and magistrate's daughter - Grace. Phil Daniels (pictured right) lurches pantomimically as the aptly-named Ratsey, while Ben Chaplin (below) looks all too comfortable as the sneering and vengeful local magistrate, Mohune (although his name has been changed from the book's original Maskew, presumably in a somewhat pointless effort to streamline the narrative). The rugged seaside locations, all romantic sandy coves, steepling cliffs and wild countryside, lend an appropriate aura of drama and romance, even if some of the day-for-night shots of the smugglers roguishly a-smuggle look a bit weird.

But despite lavish production values, the piece refuses to fit into its allotted brace of one-hour slots. Part one is the more successful, and build ups some suspense and expectation about what's in store in Sunday night's part two, but you're still left with the feeling that the story's chief strengths have been sold short in the rush to cram it in between the ad breaks.

Meade Falkner instilled a palpable sense of supernatural menace into the scenes where coffins were bumping about in the ancient Mohune crypt, but all that was weakly thrown away here in a single brief scene. The stuff about the local legend of John "Blackbeard' Mohune, owner of a fabled but cursed diamond hidden down the well at Carisbrooke Castle, was undermined by visitations from an irritatingly implausible phantom. Meanwhile, the seething antagonism between the magistrate and Winstone's character began to build nicely, especially after Mohune had murdered Block's son, but was then suddenly sawn off before it had delivered its maximum dramatic value.

Sky invested a sizeable chunk of change in this production, so it's bizarre that they didn't give it another hour (or preferably two) in which to tell its rambling but unfailingly dynamic narrative. The lack of room for manoeuvre becomes painfully apparent in part two, where great expanses of storyline are filleted down into bullet points. Screenwriter Ashley Pharoah (Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes) has also taken the liberty of changing the ending, and guess what - Falkner's version was much better.

  • Part 2 of Moonfleet is on Sky1 at 8pm Sunday 29 December
Despite lavish production values, the piece refuses to fit into its allotted brace of one-hour slots


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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