It was appointment TV for me, before I even knew what that meant. I saw the first episode because it was what happened to be on, and made sure I didn't miss another.
The second time I watched Moondial was in these last school holidays, and I had decided that I was going to put the first episode on with my kids watching. Because no critic of kids' TV is as exacting as a kid. If they didn't like it, I thought, I'd watch it later myself, or maybe I wouldn't bother, because I've already done three children's serials and why do a fourth if it's not much cop?
When the first episode finished, they unanimously begged for another. The first time they'd agreed on anything for weeks. After three episodes, back to back, I had to call it a day. For the next 48 hours, they pestered me about seeing the end of Moondial, and wouldn't stop until they'd seen it.
Afterwards, Elder Son was dismissive, but he's nearly a teenager anyway. It's his job. Daughter, aged nine, was generally positive about it. But it's three weeks later and I've just asked my youngest child, the Golden-Haired Youth, all of eight years old, if he remembered it, and he lit up. That was cool, he said! How they travelled in time with the sundial, and how they beat the villain with a mirror, that was the best part, he said.
I was enthralled too. Even twenty-nine years down the line, I would go so far as to say that I think it is the best children's drama I have ever seen.
Some of my more knowledgeable readers may be saying, "surely it's not better than Children of the Stones?" But probably not, because apart from me, no one talks out loud to blog posts. Anyway, the point is, yes, I think it's better than Children of the Stones (which is, if you don't know, generally considered the Gold Standard by people who take the time to set Gold Standards, i.e. not kids). Moondial is that good.
Minty's father died some time ago. She isn't quite over it, but there are hints that her mother has begun to move on. She goes to stay in the countryside with Aunt Mary (the wonderfully named Valerie Lush), actually a family friend. On the way back from dropping her off, Minty's mother has a car crash and ends up in a coma.
|After the screams.|
And you realise that although Minty was mature and self possessed, she was always just a word from this. That her self possession was all too brittle. And it's phenomenal. Siri Neal's performance is one of the best child performances I have ever seen on British TV.
|Siri Neal and Helen Cresswell.|
|In the hospital.|
But Minty's emotional state is shown, not told, and it never feels excessive or patronising. It is not harped on. But it is present. And it grounds the action. Minty is a real girl, with real pain. And that's all.
|Minty and Tom.|
The hauntings are in fact nothing of the sort; they are fractures in time. First, Tom (Tony Sands) a kitchen boy from a century before Minty, comes into the frame. Minty and Tom forge a cautious friendship, neither quite believing in the other. Later, they find Sarah (Helena Avellano), a girl from a century before Tom.
|Sarah and Miss Vole.|
The country house Minty haunts in her adventures is actually Belton, a real National Trust property; it has guides and tourists, and does in the story too. But it's no less dangerous for that. Like much of the rural landscape of Britain, the psychic remnants of thousands of years of habitation leaves its stones soaked with spiritual residue. It is haunted. But then, isn't everywhere?
|The dream sequence.|
Minty: Light and shadows, by turns. But always love.Of course, Minty, who externally has the most self possession, and the most strength, needs rescuing just as much as Tom and Sarah do. But she is her own rescuer, and by freeing Tom and Sarah from their pains, she resolves her own fears, her own grief.
– Episode 6
From start to finish, Moondial maintains a consistent atmosphere; unlike Colin Cant's work on Century Falls though, which gets almost Wagnerian at times, Moondial has a lower key. The first episode begins with a terrific dream sequence that, watched back, illuminates the whole story, and that sets the pace for the rest of the story. In his interview, Cant says that he didn't wholly understand what was going on, but had faith in the script and went right on and shot it. And to his credit, it worked.
Moondial combines fantasy with emotional truth, and has a maturity to it that many supposedly adult dramas lack. It is sorely overlooked. Moondial deserves to be seen as one of the classics of British children's television.