Back in the 1980s the BBC’s Children’s Drama Unit produced a lot of critically acclaimed spooky shows for kids like Ghost in the Water (1982), The Children of Green Knowe (1986) and The Watch House (1986). Since those were the days before catch up telly and I was chained to a desk throughout most of that decade I missed out on these and shows like Moondial (1988), which has now been reissued on DVD in its original six part format giving viewers their first opportunity to see the show since its second run of repeats back in 1990.
Our hero in Moondial is 13 year old Minty, short for Araminta (Siri Neal) who after her dad dies, goes to stay with her Aunt Mary (Valerie Lush) for a holiday. Unfortunately after dropping off Minty at Aunt Mary’s house in rural Beltan, Minty’s mum is involved in a car accident and ends up in a coma. Trying to take her mind off the accident Minty explores the gardens of nearby Beltan House and is transported back in time to the Victorian era when she touches the sundial.
In Victorian Beltan Minty meets Tom (Tony Sands) the consumptive kitchen boy. Now Tom is the only person there who can see Minty, so Tom decides she must be a ghost. Of course Tom has seen a ghost before so he knows what he is talking about.
Tom’s ghost is little Sarah (Helena Avellano) from the 18th century. In her own time little Sarah is tormented by a gang of masked children because of a large red birthmark on her face, the Devil’s mark they call it. She is also kept a prisoner by Miss Vole (Jacqueline Pearce ) her wicked governess. Minty and Tom, who can be seen by no one except Sarah in her time, decide they must rescue her.
Only problem is that when Minty gets back to 1988 she discovers that Miss Raven (also played by Pearce) the ghost hunter has taken up residence as Aunt Mary’s house and she is determined to thwart Minty’s plans. Can Minty liberate the children of Beltan? Not saying as it will spoil your spooky fun.
Adapted by Helen Cresswell from her novel of the same name Moondial takes a bit of time to get going over the first three episodes, but once the villainous combo of Vole and Raven join the cast it really finds its pace as it races towards its dramatic Halloween night conclusion. Mostly shot in the gardens of the real Beltan House, a National Trust property in Lincolnshire, there are some fabulously atmospheric scenes especially as Sarah is pursued and taunted by a gang of masked children.
Moondial is beautiful to look at (well maybe except for the 1980s fashions) with gorgeous photography, a highly atmospheric musical score and great performances from all three young leads. Pearce is fabulously menacing as both Vole and Raven.
A gentle, but atmospheric supernatural drama that will have you questioning just what ghosts really are I give Moondial a 555/666
Moondial was released on DVD on 4 May by Second Sight price £15.99.
Interviews with Siri Neal and director Colin Cant.
Commentary by Siri Neal and Colin Cant for episodes 1 and 6