Noah's Castle ★★★½

Mention Britain in the 1970s to anyone and you'll invariably get the same responses of 'winter of discontent', 'Dennis Healey going cap in hand to the IMF', 'streets piled high with rubbish because of council strikes' and 'gravediggers refusing to bury the dead'. These perceptions of the 1970s have become folkloric, leaving many to believe that British society was on the brink of collapse under Jim Callaghan's Labour government. Never mind that economic growth, at 2.4%, would go on to stay at exactly the same level in Thatcher's Britain of the 1980s, the 1970s is considered to be the sick decade.

It's this notion that clearly informed author John Rowe Townsend who, in 1975, wrote a book set in the near future that posits the notion of what could happen should the UK succumb to runaway inflation, critical food shortages and the breakdown of law and order. His book, telling the story of a family whose social conscience is tested to the limit by this situation when their overbearing father begins to hoard provisions in his cellar and hole the family up until they are safely through the crisis, was entitled Noah's Castle and it was subsequently adapted for television five years later. For children. That's right - Noah's Castle, with its heavy themes of social and economic collapses, is a story children.

Adapted for the screen by Nick McCarty and produced and directed by Colin Nutley, the beauty of this eight-part drama series is that it makes no concessions to being mere children's entertainment, coming as it does from an era that understood that a programme principally featuring children needn't be childish. There's a commitment on display both in front of and behind the camera that would make your average socially aware post watershed drama envious. There's no tipping the wink, no 'it's alright kiddies really, we're only playing' glint in the eye from a cast that includes craggy faced David Neal as the stern patrician and ex-soldier Norman Mortimer (imagine a scrotum with military bearing), future EastEnder Mike Reid as a menacingly softly spoken cockney heavy and black marketeer, Alun Lewis as a charming anarchist, Christopher Fairbank as a morally conscientious food bank organiser and Simon Gipps-Kent as our lead, Mortimer's defiant son, Barry. Equally, there's no quarter given in the disturbing, distinctly adult themes that are present in the storyline; when Mortimer takes in his former employer, the snobbish and wily Mr Gerald (the fruity-voiced Jack May), the selfish old bastard not only starts to manipulate Mortimer's forelock-tugging nature by blackmailing him to keep him in the manner in which he's accustomed to, he also makes it very plain that he means to have Mortimer's teenage daughter, Nessie (Annette Ekblom who at the time was married to co-star Alun Lewis who plays her drop-out boyfriend) and expects Mortimer to pimp her out to him - something which Mortimer agrees to do. This theme of sexual bartering in a broken society is also suggested by Michèle Winstanley, who plays a teenage friend of Barry's, who at one point laments that she's not pretty enough to entice shopkeepers to provide her with the food she's so desperate for.

If watched a couple of years ago, Noah's Castle would have been little more than a fun dystopic runaround that played on the fears of late '70s Britain. Watched now, this story of suspicion and selfishness, of shops and shelves left bare, of food banks facing incredibly high demands they cannot hope to meet, of looting and rioting in the streets and the heavy hand of martial law, feels increasingly like a primer for life in Britain under a hard Brexit.

It has a great theme tune from Jugg Music too.

Mark liked this review