23 December 2005 | Doomlad
Classic TV adaptations of Roald Dahl stories
Having only discovered this series exists after finding the first two seasons on DVD at a local used bookstore, I took a chance and bought the first disc. The next day I returned to buy the rest, congratulating myself on stumbling across such a trove.
Like the short stories upon which they are based, the 'Tales of the Unexpected' focus on the consequences of duplicity, greed and other less-favourable traits so common throughout human kind. Little, if any, of the appeal is lost in translating these twisting tales from page to screen. The quality of the original material can be thanked for this but the talents of its legendary cast (Jose Ferrare, Joan Collins, Derek Jacobi, Brian Blessed, Cyril Cusack, etc, etc, etc) must also be acknowledged. The creative cinematography, evocative settings and careful casting also contributes to the series' eerie, expectant feel. The result of all this is a must-see for aficionados of speculative fiction as well as devotees of the author, who won't have to worry about his work being desecrated. He introduces each story himself, offering an evocative glimpse of the mind that
Dahl knew that for a short story to be effective, the reader must be made emotionally dependant on its outcome within the brief space allotted. Subsequently, his characters force a reaction from the reader; whether sympathy, affinity or disgust. Similarly, his plots generate a sense of unease in that you can sometimes guess a few different ways they might end but you're never sure until its done. Even then things often turn out to be worse than imagined. The episodes in 'Tales...' follow this rule religiously; superfluous dialogue is non-existent; a twitch of an eye carries the gravity of a soliloquy. The end result is that viewers find themselves inexorably drawn into the action and, at its conclusion, wonder how a half-an hour long program can resonate in the mind for long afterwards.
Some suggest that 'Tales...' is campy. I can't agree and am perplexed at the opinion. Camp to me triggers thoughts of 'The Benny Hill Show,' the Adam West-era 'Batman' or any other program that takes itself less than seriously. This series couldn't be farther from that genre. Admittedly, the opening credits are dated and were probably unimpressive even at the time, but the show itself is executed in the time-tested traditions that give British drama its fine reputation; its use of humour is sparing, satirical, focused and ghoulishly black. The tone, whether deadly serious or incongruously whimsical all serve to throw the ultimate conclusion into skin-raising contrast.
I think the 'Tales...' are consistently excellent but if I had to name my favourites...
The Man From the South - ironically, Rod Serling's 'Twilight Zone'adapted this tale for TV long before the author himself,
Royal Jelly - a beekeeper's obsession becomes his legacy,
Skin - the tattoo on his back offers a down & out man the chance of a new life
Galloping Foxley - drawn from Dahl's own school days, this story showcases a different type of terror(s)
The Hitchhiker - Cyril Cusack. Say no more.