Review : Neil Gaiman’s Likely Stories

Gaiman storiesThe short-form fantasy anthology series makes an all-too-brief return in Sky Arts’ excellent adaptation of a quartet of Neil (Sandman) Gaiman’s tales of the unexpected. 

For far too long, film and TV adaptations of Neil Gaiman’s work have been either stuck in the production pipeline or just not been happening at all. Now that American Gods is being filmed as a TV series and How to Talk to Girls at Parties is in post-production as a movie, Gaimanites (Gaimaniacs?) might think that’s all they could expect for a while. And they’d be wrong, because while we wait for Shadow to jump from the pages of the author’s magnum opus, Sky Arts have produced a short anthology series based on four of Gaiman’s stories.

Closing TimeFeeders And EatersLooking For The Girl and Foreign Parts have all been taken from Gaiman’s short story collections – Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders and Smoke And Mirrors – their 30-minute run times ensuring that the source material (ranging from 10 to 15 pages each) isn’t stretched beyond recognition. 

Directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard (20,000 Days on Earth) and adapted by them with writer Kevin Lehane, the tales all share the same conceit of being set in London and feature an ensemble cast playing different roles; Tom Hughes (The Game), George MacKay (Pride), Kenneth Cranham (Hellraiser II), Monica Dolan (The Falling), Paul Ritter (The Game) and Johnny Vegas are among the more recognisable Brit faces.

Premiering 26th May on Sky Arts, the press launch at the BFI on 19th May served up all four episodes as one compilation portmanteau Amicus/Gaiman confection. As hoped, the promised ‘very special guest’ was Neil himself, who appears in each episode in different ways.

Pulp front man Jarvis Cocker has scored the episodes and was joined on stage by an eight-piece band, performing a suite of songs and instrumentals from the soundtrack. As you’d expect from the indie pop legend, it’s witty and laconic lyrics all the way, rasped over guitar and strings, and sets the quirky tone for the show.

When initially approached about the project, Neil provided details of 40 stories that were available for adaptation. He expressed his surprise at the choices that were made, as they were not the easiest, most obvious ones and fell on the darker end of the spectrum. Be warned, this isn’t ‘Stardust’ Gaiman, it’s a realm of sexual diseases, body horror and ghastly shocks. While each story had its requisite twist or sting, they don’t exist purely for the pay-off, building up the tension and the narrative, with the endings very different to how you might imagine.

All stories are set in familiar, recognisable London environs – tube station, actors’ club, greasy spoon cafe… STD clinic! While Alan Moore has his beloved Northampton, Gaiman frequently writes of the UK’s capital city – evidenced further in Neverwhere, which he is shortly due to return to in prose form. I asked him why he has an affinity with the place, and quite simply it’s because of the rich  history and his own personal association. He lives in the States now, and his wife (performer Amanda Palmer) can’t believe why he gets so excited whenever he returns to London – at which point he was interrupted by two of his critics from the back of the auditorium: his wife and cooing 8-month-old.

You wouldn’t thank me if  I revealed any more about the actual stories, and even if you’re familiar with the originals there’s still plenty new to enjoy. Let’s hope that there’s enough interest to warrant production of more of these stories that are anything but likely. I mean, there’s another 36 available!

Kudos to Sky Arts for the commission, and to writer/directors Forsyth and Pollard, who clearly know their genre well.

Verdict: Dark, grimy, though often very funny, these mini journeys into the author’s mind are bite-sized treats, though you might want to gorge on all four in one go. 9/10

Nick Joy

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