This ITV children’s series was adapted from the 1958 book Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr, which is probably a lot more familiar as the source material for the 1988 film Paperhouse, which was apparently nowhere near as faithful to the book as this 1972 version (though some accuse it of lifting the TV show’s visual style). I don’t remember enjoying it as much as I did this, anyhow.

Escape Into Night follows a little girl named Marianne (Vikki Chambers) who is injured in a horse-riding accident and becomes bed-ridden. Her only company is her mother, her doctor, and a tutor that has been hired until she can return to school.

Marianne passes her time drawing and having vivid dreams taking place in a dark surreal house. It’s no spoiler to say that it turns out her drawings come alive in her dreams, and she discovers that what happens there when she is asleep is directly affected by marks she adds, causing anything from furniture to crazy black marks across the windows.

More importantly, Marianne encounters Mark (Steven Jones), who at first seems to live in the house, but soon Marianne discovers she has a direct connection to him and begins to try and manipulate events via her drawings in order to help him out.

Though it’s probably a bit talky by modern standards, this is a pretty dark — visually and thematically — show that works like a surreal stage production. There are no color episodes available, but the black and white versions really work well for maximum eeriness matching the heaviness of the subtext.

At center of the drama is that while Marianne struggles for respect from the adults around her, and succeeds to varying degrees, her real rival is her own emotion, which when it runs wild creates troubles in the dream world. For the time especially, its an intelligent and quite intense drama, thoroughly compelling in its way, like Dennis Potter for kids. Children’s television doesn’t often hit these dark tones in quite the same honest way, and Escape Into Night deserves to be remembered for its innovation.

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