Fantasy / Science Fiction
Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Richard Mayhew is a rather ordinary fellow, living a rather ordinary sort of life in London. He works an unexciting office job, dealing in securities. In fact, nothing in Richard’s life is very exciting. The only anomalous aspects are the multicolor collection of trolls he keeps at his desk and his girlfriend, Jessica.
Upon seeing Jessica, you wonder how an ordinary sort of gentleman such as Richard Mayhew might have landed such an above average woman. But Jessica sees something in Richard that no one else can. Jessica sees someone she can mold into a successful businessman who can give her everything she could ever want…so long as she could get him to stop calling her Jess!
Richard doesn’t see things Jessica’s way. He’s gotten quite used to his dull, yet seemingly satisfying life. That is, until a scruffy young woman falls in front of him in the middle of a London street. Richard feels compelled to help the injured woman, much to Jessica’s chagrin. The terrified woman begs Richard not to take her to a hospital and, not knowing what else to do, Richard brings her to his flat to offer whatever aid he can. Little does he know that this simple act of kindness is about to change his life forever.
The young girl he has rescued from certain death is named Door, the last surviving member of a very powerful family in London, but none that Richard Mayhew has ever heard of. Door’s family was part of the hierarchy in a world that few people could claim to have ever seen – London Below. Richard eventually finds himself helping Door in her quest to discover who murdered her family and why.
Richard learns that there is a whole world living under London proper…around its fringes…in its darkest corners. It’s a world that he could never have imagined in his wildest dreams. A world where people converse with rats, practice magic, hold court in abandoned trains and train stations, and attend floating markets. A world where danger awaits the unsuspecting around every corner. It’s all so fantastical that Richard starts to wonder whether he’s gone mad…and he hasn’t even scraped its surface!
This is the premise behind Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, a fantastical journey through a world of mystery and magic. When he was first approached to write a screenplay set in the world of the homeless, Neil Gaiman originally balked at the idea, worried that whatever he created might actually make homelessness seem “cool” to the youth of the world. But when he finally agreed to work on the project, his imagination and creativity did just that, using urban legends and tall tales to create an underworld like none we could ever imagine.
The actors chosen for the roles in Neverwhere bring expertise and believability to the whole tale. The casting crew definitely deserves kudos in their choices – each cast member plays their individual role to the utmost, drawing you into the story and making it something you can believe as occurring in reality. Gary Bakewell is incredible in his portrayal of Richard Mayhew. Viewers sympathize with his plight completely and root for his success throughout the adventure. Laura Fraser is mesmerizing as Door, proving that she can successfully portray a broad range of emotions - from fear to anger to sorrow to feigned indifference. Fraser is absolutely convincing as the last surviving daughter out to avenge the murder of her loved ones. Paterson Joseph is masterful in his portrayal of the dodgy Marquis de Carabas, Door’s ally in her search for justice. The role of the Marquis is very complex, but Joseph is up to the task, adding facial expressions and a haughtiness that defines the character in a way no other actor can. Hywell Bennet and Clive Russel are deliciously evil as the assassins Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandermar. One can’t help but cringe as they watch Vandermar and Croup discussing the joy received in torturing others. The two actors play well off one another and viewers will enjoy the banter between the two, however gruesome the subject. There are so many actors that deserve praise for their talented portrayals, there is just not enough space to list them all.
The sets for Neverwhere are equally amazing. There is a reason for the realistic look of the sets – the scenes for London Below were mostly filmed in London Below. Neil Gaiman and his crew scouted old abandoned subways and sewers all over London for just the right filming locations. The result is a dark, dreary, and dangerous looking sort of place.
The special effects are none to special and it is this writer’s opinion that this too lends a sort of credence to the tale. The filming is done in such a way that you could almost believe you were watching the events as they were taking place. Fans of old science fiction series will at once be reminded of Dr. Who – the dark sets, the odd filming angles, the minimal special effects – all combine to create a world of mystery and intrigue.
The DVD version of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere contains all six of the hour-long episodes that originally aired on the BBC in the United Kingdom in 1996. The extras include audio commentary by Neil Gaiman, character descriptions, a photo gallery, a biography of Neil Gaiman, and the original BBC interview of Neil Gaiman.
Of particular interest is the interview which is extremely informative and offers amazing insight into the mind of the story’s creator. Gaiman explains everything from his choice of names for the characters to the reason behind certain costume choices. At one point Gaiman discusses the realization he made that it is one thing to write a story and put your characters through hellish circumstances, and quite another when the story is brought to life by real actors put through hellish circumstances. He recalls a scene where two actors are performing in a fight scene filmed on a dark, muddy, and dank set. In the scene one actor’s prop breaks over a stuntman’s head. Feeling guilty, Gaiman is just about to apologize to the cast and crew for the conditions he is putting them through when Laura Fraser comes up to him, her eyes lit with excitement, and remarks that she can’t believe she is actually getting paid to do this. This is just one of the bounty of behind the scenes information Gaiman supplies viewers in this lengthy interview.
Despite its low budget look, Neverwhere is a fun and exciting ride through a world that many have wondered about, but few have quite dared to take a closer look at. The storytelling is incredible and viewers will be drawn in at once. The DVD is definitely worth the purchase for any sci-fi or fantasy fan and viewers will find that they enjoy the tale so much that they want to watch it over and over again.
Those who enjoy the miniseries will be thrilled to know that Neil Gaiman completed a novel of the same name with an expanded look at the life of Richard Mayhew and the world of London Below. There is also a comic book series of the same name.