The Changes (1975)

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Now listen up Hothouse Flowers, The Changes, which as just been re-released by the British Film Institute as part of their BFI SCI FI: Days of Fear and Wonder celebration, may have been made for the BBC children’s TV slot, but it’s a thought-provoking drama that packs a few shocks along the way. Originally broadcast on the BBC in 1975, The Changes was based upon Peter Dickinson’s best selling trilogy of sci-fi novels: The Weathermonger, Heartsease and The Devils’ Children. It tells the tale of Nicky Gore (Victoria Williams) who is sat happily at home doing her English homework when a strange noise turns everyone against machines. Nicky’s homework is forgotten as she joins mum and dad in trashing the telly, radio and kitchen equipment. Outside ordinary folk have gone Basil Fawlty on cars, trucks and vans.

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In the aftermath Nicky’s parents decide to head for France, which is reputed to be safe, but Nicky gets separated from them. Now, bear in mind that this is the 1970s and Nicky’s parents are terribly middle class – naturally they decide that ‘Nicky is a sensible girl’ and hop it across the Channel without waiting for her. Nicky, who must be around 14 is left to find her own way in England, where people have all seemingly gone nuts. Along the way Nicky falls in with a band of metal working Sikhs, falls foul of a band of black clad thugs and is accused, tried and convicted of witchcraft before getting to the bottom of the mystery of what caused the machine hating meltdown. The episodes where Nicky has to face trial for witchcraft and is sentenced to death by stoning, reminded me of British folk horrors like The Wicker Man and Witchfinder General, with their depiction of societal breakdown and the manner in which a forceful personality can take command (in this case the crazy witch hunting religious zealot Davy Gordon, played with evident relish by David Garfield).

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The Changes depiction of a near apocalyptic future paved the way for the likes of further BBC sci-fi drams like Survivors (initially broadcast in 1975 and rebooted in 2008) and The Day of the Triffids (first broadcast 1981 and then remade for 2009). For a drama made in 1975, The Changes broke a lot of new ground with a strong female lead, an ethnic minority (the Sikhs) playing a central role and depicted in an extremely positive manner, and the whole production was largely shot on location. As with any piece of 70s TV it does creak here and there with its predominantly middle class RP accents and the synthesised music from the BBC Radiophonic workshop does grate on the nerves, but I guess they had a new expensive toy and wanted to justify the expense to the licence payer.. A sci-fi twinged British folk horror with some genuinely exciting thrills and nice performances from Victoria William, Jack Watson and David Garfield. I give The Changes a 555/666. DVD Extras include:

  • At Home in Britain (1983) a short film exploring the everyday lives of Asians of different failths living in the UK.
  • Stills gallery
  • An illustrated booklet with essays about the programme.

The Changes is available from the BFI Shop and other retailers RRP £24.99.

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Review by Simon Ball

Connect with Simon: @RealShipsCook or here.


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