Christopher LeeTerry PratchettDiscworldJune Whitfield
Wyrd Sisters
Medium: TV, series
Year: 1997
Director: Jean Flynn
Writer: Terry Pratchett
Production: Cosgrove Hall, Channel 4
Keywords: fantasy, comedy, animation
Country: UK
Actor: Christopher Lee, Jane Horrocks, June Whitfield, Annette Crosbie, Eleanor Bron, Les Dennis, Andy Hockley, David Holt, Jimmy Hibbert, Rob Rackstraw, Melissa Sinden, Taff Girdlestone
Format: 2 episodes, 140 minutes
Series: << Discworld >>
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0159931/
Website category: Fantasy
Review date: 25 August 2009
Preferable in almost every department to Soul Music. It's got less involvement for Christopher Lee and even worse animation, but on the upside we have a better story, more interesting characters and actors I can happily listen to.
We'll deal with the choice of original novel first. Wyrd Sisters seems to be a popular Terry Pratchett book for adaptation, having been turned into this animated series, a BBC Radio 4 dramatisation and a Stephen Briggs stage play. What's more, I can see why. It's got a solid dramatic framework, as you'd hope from what's basically Macbeth with a twist of Hamlet, and I've always liked its three heroines. Esme Weatherwax is the best Pratchett protagonist not to walk around with a scythe, Nanny Ogg is lovably dreadful and Magrat brings the parody up to date by believing in all the touchy-feely spiritualism you'll hear from would-be witches today. What's more, you've also got Father Ted-style gags from the witches' refusal to come out of the Middle Ages, unless that should be the Brothers Grimm. Together they could take on just about anyone and here they're essentially up against Lord and Lady Macbeth.
I also like the plot developments. I like Pratchett's solution to the problem of a royal heir who's a baby at the beginning and a grown man at the end, for instance. The Fool's Guild is impressively ghastly and I also like his notion of the land itself having opinions about its rulers, which leads in the end to a villain probably getting eaten.
These three are always good to watch, helped a lot by voice actors who can act. My only niggle would be that Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg sound too similar, partly because they're doing the same accent. Lancre would appear to be either in Yorkshire or Lancashire if you listen to how everyone speaks, but I liked that. It adds character to the place. Anyway, the cast here is far better than Soul Music's. You've got Jane Horrocks, June Whitfield and Annette Crosbie as the three witches, with Christopher Lee, Eleanor Bron and Les Dennis following close behind. They won't blow you away or anything, but they get laughs from the funny lines and they're competent. I like competence. It helps a lot. If I had to pick a least favourite, I'd be tempted to go for Crosbie's Weatherwax, actually. The other two are basically comic relief, but she's meant to be imposing. Unfortunately neither the stiff, cartoonish animation nor Crosbie's vocals really convey that, putting no real steel behind her words.
That said, though, Crosbie's basically fine. She's perfectly watchable and kind of fun. Much more annoying was the decision to have Pratchett's strolling players sounding like a right bunch of ponces, with plummy theatrical voices that pretty much kill any ability to take them seriously as characters. Tomjon in particular comes across as a joke, which is unfortunate since he's important to the plot. However I don't entirely blame the cast for that, since a policy decision had clearly been made to play it up concerning the accents, which is I think basically a sound decision. A further irritation for me about the strolling players is that whenever we see them doing their job on stage, they're risibly amateurish. You could handwave this away by saying that you can't expect modern acting standards from a bunch of medieval players, but the root of the matter is that Cosgrove Hall's animation and resulting storytelling style is sufficiently crude that it might have confused us to have realistic performances in the play-within-a-play. At least this way you're never in doubt about when a line of dialogue's for real rather than just being read off the strolling players' playsheets. I'd have been up in arms if they'd done it like this in a live-action adaptation, though.
The animation is something you'll have to forgive. The art itself is still horrible and the animation resorts too often to lazy in-the-face shots that don't require the artists to worry about little things like perspective or anatomy. I'm also not a fan of those CGI scene transitions. However on the upside I like the character designs, within their limitations, and I enjoyed that demon the witches summon in part one.
The ending lacks force. With this silly-looking animation, it's always going to be an uphill struggle to get any real tension or atmosphere. It's okay. Weatherwax kicking arse, the villains getting their just deserts and even Christopher Lee's Death showing up are all definitively and utterly okay. However being able to bestow even that much praise is a step up from Cosgrove Hall's Soul Music and Sky One's Hogfather and The Colour of Magic, so all things considered that's a rather muted thumbs up from me. I dare say even Terry Pratchett himself would admit that he's not a plot-driven author, after all.
I didn't mind this one. It made me laugh from time to time, although they overdo the "lawks" gag. Soul Music hammered its livery/liver joke into the ground in the same fashion, come to think of it. It's slightly frustrating to watch, not unlike hearing Mozart played by a pianist who's wearing boxing gloves, but it's possible to get used to the art style and at least the acting's better this time.