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Play For Today: Red Shift (BBC-1 1978, James Hazledine, Lesley Dunlop)

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Play For Today Red Shift

It’s 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 (Stephen Petcher) and Jan (Lesley Dunlop) 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 she 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 (Andrew Byatt), 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 (Charles Bolton) who believes it is a “Thunderstone” created by a lightning strike. When the village is attacked by Irish rebels Thomas and his wife Madge (Myra Frances) 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.

Series: Play For Today Season Eight Episode Thirteen

Cast
TOM’S TIME
STEPHEN PETCHER as Tom; LESLEY DUNLOP as Jan; STELLA TANNER as Tom’s Mother; BERNARD GALLAGHER as Tom’s Father; MICHAEL WOLF as German

THOMAS’S TIME
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

MACEY’S TIME
ANDREW BYATT as Macey; VERONICA QUILLIGAN as Girl; KEN HUTCHISON as Logan; ANTHONY LANGDON as Magoo; DARAGH O’MALLEY as Face

Writer: Alan Garner / Music: Phil Ryan / Producer: David Rose / Director: John Mackenzie

UK / BBC One / 1×82 minute episode / Broadcast 17 January 1978