DVD REVIEW: THE CHANGES / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: JOHN PROWSE / SCREENPLAY: ANNA HOME / STARRING: VICTORIA WILLIAMS, KEITH ASHTON, RAFIQ ANWAR, DAVID GARFIELD / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 25TH
Children’s dramas from decades ago are frequently being rediscovered by more mature audiences on DVD, and with The Changes the BFI are hoping to add another to a list that includes Children of the Stones (1977) and The Owl Service (1969/70).
Broadcast on the BBC early in 1975 in ten episodes adapted from the acclaimed trilogy by Peter Dickinson (actually published in the late 1960s in reverse chronological order), with surprisingly adult themes and ultra-modish camerawork and picture composition, this is perhaps the missing link between the cult 1970 film No Blade of Grass and the 1981 version of The Day of the Triffids. In spite of a spare script and equally sparing characterisation, The Changes nevertheless makes for wholly absorbing viewing.
The story begins immediately with the titular “Changes”, a strange noise forcing people to turn violently against “wicked” machinery. Television sets are destroyed, kitchen appliances battered and cars overturned, and when Nicky Gore (Williams) and her family attempt to flee the chaos they are separated; we then follow Nicky’s story as she first falls in with a family of Sikhs and thereafter with Jonathan (Ashton), perhaps the most sympathetically played character in the serial, as gradually she undertakes a journey that will ultimately reveal the source of all that has happened.
The first of the three stories incorporated here is an allegory about the influx of Asians into British society and the adoption of a free European economic market, hot political potatoes when the books were written and remaining so when The Changes was produced, while the middle section is told against a harsh religious backdrop harking back to Michael Reeves’ then-recent film Witchfinder General, and in the concluding segment we encounter the kind of then-prevalent New Age themes pre-empting Terry Nation’s Survivors, transmitted later the same year. It’s quite a heady brew and unlikely to be replicated in modern television, children’s or otherwise.
What’s most remarkable about The Changes isn’t so much Anna Home’s sparse scriptwriting as John Prowse’s lucid direction, getting the most out of a roll call of unassuming but classy British character actors (including Bernard Horsfall, Edward Brayshaw, Jack Watson and Tom Chadbon), and a clean transfer from the film source reveals the considerable influence of 1970s cinema on the production. With a slightly more compelling screenplay this could easily have passed muster on the silver screen, rather than as deceptively fast-moving television.
Thoughtful yet energetic, evocative and challenging, The Changes is another great release from the BFI, and it's sure to find a place on the shelves of anyone with even a passing interest in stylish post-apocalyptic fiction, be it ostensibly for children or not.
Extras: Booklet /At Home in Britain, a short educational film about Asians living in the UK