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Ancient Greece on British Television$
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Fiona Hobden and Amanda Wrigley

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474412599

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474412599.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM EDINBURGH SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.edinburgh.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Edinburgh University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ESO for personal use.date: 01 December 2021

The Serpent Son (1979): A Science Fiction Aesthetic?

The Serpent Son (1979): A Science Fiction Aesthetic?

(p.109) 5 The Serpent Son (1979): A Science Fiction Aesthetic?
Ancient Greece on British Television

Tony Keen

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter discusses the aesthetics of the BBC’s 1979 production of Frederick Raphael and Kenneth McLeish’s The Serpent Son, an adaptation of Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy, which critics at the time associated with science fiction. Certainly, the design of costumes, sets, props and lighting, together with the direction and camerawork, gave this trilogy a non-realist studio-bound visual style familiar to contemporary British television science fiction series, such as Doctor Who, Blake’s Seven and TheTomorrow People. By examining elements of the mise-en-scène, this chapter assesses whether this was a deliberate choice. It argues that, whilst the similarities are there, the aesthetic is as much the result of production methods employed at the time by the BBC, and general non-mimetic approaches to the production of Greek drama on screen, as it is any deliberate attempt to recall the science fiction genre. But the choice of a non-realist aesthetic for Greek tragedy is also a clear statement about the producers’ view of the connection between the modern audience and ancient Greek texts. This is the dominant visual aesthetic of productions of Greek tragedy on British television around this time, many of which employed similar distancing effects.

Keywords:   BBC television, Doctor Who, The Serpent Son, Aeschylus’ Oresteia, science fiction aesthetic, mise-en-scène (set, costume, props, lighting), studio drama, Kenneth McLeish, Frederick Raphael, television production

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