Forgotten TV: Children of the Stones
The 1976 children’s series Children of the Stones comes up again and again in lists from British folk pulling from their childhood for the television shows and movies that creeped them out the most. And creepy is the central mood of the series as it pulls from the trope of strange English villages with sinister secrets being kept from the outsiders. This is often coupled with the fear of something conspiratorial that might even cause at one point normal people to switch over to the strangeness that the outsider can’t quite put a finger on.
Like The Wicker Man for kids, Children of the Stones posits strange comings and goings in a small village of Milbury that astrophysicist Adam Brake (Gareth Thomas, previously seen on Star Maidens) and his son Matthew (Peter Demin) are visiting for research purposes. The village is surrounded by a henge monument of stone circles and was filmed in the village of Avery, which really is surrounded by three stone circles called Avebury that dates back to 2600 BCE. The aerial shots of the place featured in the show are pretty cool.
Coincidentally, Matthew has a cool and crazy painting depicting worship in a stone circle and people escaping the thrash from bolt of light from the sky piercing the center of the circle and scatters the worshippers. He becomes convinced that the painting is specifically about Milbury and seeks to link it through historical documents.
The people around town just make that notion seem likelier and spookier, especially Hendrick ( Iain Cuthbertson), the apparent leader of the village and self-appointed goodwill ambassador to outsiders with one of those cat just caught a mouse smiles. There’s also a collection of kids in school who all sit on one side of the classroom, shunning outsiders and working obsessively on math problems.
But it’s Freddie Jones as a poacher named Dai, who helps push Matthew’s suspicions over the top as hecryptically sneaks around, convinced of some greater convergence of danger, hiding out in a hovel that he calls a safe house, and generally acting like a hunted man. He begins to draw Matthrew into his overwhelming fog of paranoia and the more Dai allows himself to be swept up, the clearer it becomes that something weird is going on in the village. This is the same Freddie Jones you’ll recall from the Elephant Man, and this performance comes from the same place — totally unexpected in this kind of show.
Meanwhile, Adam has struck up a friendship with another outsider, Margaret (Veronica Strong),the curator in the local museum who helps with matching historical details with the conspiracy and standing along the sidelines with Adam as they watch other outsiders slowly join the villagers and turn away from the world.
Children of the Stones, even years later, has some genuinely creepy touches, like the lingering camera work on the standing stones, the visceral chorale chanting that serves as a soundtrack, and unnerving way in which villagers greet people with the phrase, “Happy days!” And the druidic hodgepodge of backdrop, complete with some spooky late night mob scenes, provides plenty of unnerving emotional and narrative undertones.
The ending to the series raises more questions than it answers, and perhaps the questions that linger are addressed in the show’s literary sequel, which was written in 2012 by the series creators and writers, Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray — they had previously, in 1977, written a novelization of the show.
But the ending does tie everything up in basic terms if not extrapolating on the minutiae that comes to mind, and extends the possibility that the creeps don’t just stop there. It makes the foreboding ride to the conclusion one well worth hopping on, and admirably holds up the show’s reputation as something that unnerved kids of the time. After all, Children of the Stones is an atmospheric tale wrought from the ordinary landscape of England, and that’s the sort of thing that’s creepy to any kid.