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Artemis 81

Entry updated 16 January 2023. Tagged: Film.

Made-for-tv film (1981). BBC TV. Directed by Alastair Reid. Written by David Rudkin. Cast includes Hywel Bennett, Roland Curram, Dan O'Herlihy, Ian Redford, Dinah Stabb, Sting and Margaret Whiting. 181 minutes. Colour.

On another planet, the Manichean Alien angels Asrael (Curram) and Helith (Sting) vie over the fate of the human race. Evil Asrael travels to Earth and forces the cursed organist Albrecht von Drachenfels (O'Herlihy) to distribute pieces of a stolen Pagan relic among passengers on a North Sea ferry; these compel the recipients to Suicide and – when reunited by traumatized relatives – wreak a terrible but under-explained transformation on the world.

The suicides intrigue Gideon Harlax (Bennett), an emotionally-cloistered author of Pseudoscience bestsellers whose estranged girlfriend (Stabb) has narrowly avoided becoming one of Drachenfels' victims. Beset by personal trauma and supernatural violence, Harlax finds himself transported first to a Dystopian City – where a terminally-depleted Helith recruits him to the service of Good – and then to a womb-like underground complex where malign humanoids are (perhaps; the story is not particularly clear) being created and conditioned to rule over the fallen world.

Though Artemis 81 offers many incidental pleasures and impressive moments – especially in the middle section set in the "city made sick" – the film overall is incoherent and pretentious. David Rudkin, whose television work in a similar vein includes the acclaimed Pagan fantasy Penda's Fen (1974), here seems to have mistaken Gothic Clichés for cosmic grandeur. This is most apparent during the po-faced but silly climax, in which Harlax races against time and his own demons to save humanity from destruction while Drachenfels plays Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in the background. Ultimately the most remarkable thing about Artemis 81 is that the BBC devoted an entire evening of the Christmas 1981 tv schedule to its broadcast. [DO]


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