Hard to explain succinctly just what the incredible Play For Today: Red Shift is truly about, shifting in time across a thousand years and linked by a hill in Crewe called Mow Cop and by the relationship of a young couple.
Tom and Jan are a young couple about to be seperated, Jan is leaving to start her training as a student nurse in London but the pair agree to meet once a month in Crewe (the middle point between the two) and the pair begin to spend time at Mow Cop Hill where Tom discovers an ancient axe head in the ruins of a house there. Tom is completely stifled by his parents and has been avoiding a physical relationship with Jan and is distraught when he discovers Jan has had an affair whilst on holiday in Germany.
Meanwhile in Roman Britain in the same area a group of soldiers pillage a village and take a young girl prisoner, taking her to the top of Mow Cop, a sacred place to the villagers. One of the soldiers Macey, has a stone axe which he believes allows him to go “beserk”. The young girl is abused by the soldiers but gains her revenge by poisoning them.
Moving forward to the time of the Barthomley Church siege during the English Civil War the stone axe is discovered by Thomas Rowley who believes it is a “Thunderstone” created by a lightning strike. When the village is attacked by Irish rebels Thomas and his wife Madge are among the few survivors, they head to Mow Cop where they build a house and place the “Thunderstone” in the chimney as a good luck charm.
Based on Garner’s own 1973 novel Red Shift is quite superb, typically Garner-ish in its dealing with time and objects as well as astrology and the cosmos. The title alludes to both the fact that Tom wants to be happy and feels he needs a “Red Shift” instead of feeling blue and also the killing that goes on in the two other time frames.
UK | BBC-1
RUNNING TIME: 82 minutes | NUMBER OF EPISODES: 1 | AIRDATE: 17 January 1978
WRITER: Alan Garner | MUSIC: Phil Ryan | PRODUCER: David Rose | DIRECTOR: John Mackenzie
Season Eight Episode Thirteen
Play For Today: Red Shift
STEPHEN PETCHER as Tom
LESLEY DUNLOP as Jan
STELLA TANNER as Tom’s Mother
BERNARD GALLAGHER as Tom’s Father
MICHAEL WOLF as German
CHARLES BOLTON as Thomas Rowley
MYRA FRANCES as Madge Rowley
JAMES HAZLEDINE as John Fowler
ROBERT BROWN as Rector
FREDDIE FLETCHER as Randal
MICHAEL ELPHICK as Thomas Venables
BEN HOWARD as Officer
ANDREW BYATT as Macey
VERONICA QUILLIGAN as Girl
KEN HUTCHISON as Logan
ANTHONY LANGDON as Magoo
DARAGH O’MALLEY as Face