The Gift (1990)


UK. 1990.


Directors – Marc Evans & Red Saunders, Teleplay – Anthony Horowitz, Based on the Novel by Peter Dickinson, Producer – Linda James, Photography – Jason Lehel, Music – Michael Storey, Special Effects Supervisor – Chris Corbould, Production Design – Steve Hardie. Production Company – Red Rooster Films.


Tat Whalley (Davy Price), Jeff Rawle (John Price), Jodhi May (Sonia Parsons), John Levitt (George Palozzi), Emma-Louise Harrington (Penny Price), Cynthia Grenville (Nain Price), Denys Graham (William ‘Dadda’ Price), Jacqueline Tong (Rita Price), Gary Whelan (Wolf), Richard Hanson (Colin), Roger Milner (Mr Lidyard), Madlena Nedeva (Mrs Parsons), Peter O’Brien (Jack Venn), David Roper (Inspector Jordan), Nicholas Tennant (Monkey/Mike Keegan), Grey Evans (Village Policeman), Carl Chase (Black Hat)


After another of Davy Price’s father John’s business ventures fails, his mother walks out. John leaves Davy and his younger sister Penny with his parents on their farm in Wales. After Davy falls in the nearby quarry, he starts to have visions. Nain, Davy’s grandmother, explains that he has The Gift, which has been in their family for generations – the ability to see events that will happen and read the thoughts of others. John gets a new job, reunites the family and resettles them back in London. At a new school, Davy is paired with fellow pupil Sonia Parsons on a workplace project. Sonia sees that Davy has the ability to read the thoughts of others and mentions it to her uncle George Palozzi, a shabby show-business entrepreneur. George becomes obsessed with getting Davy to become one of his stage acts. Meanwhile, Davy has foreseen that his father has been drawn into a scheme to rob the worksite’s payroll van. He also sees that the gang leader is preparing to leave the blame for the robbery on John. Davy tries to find a way to prevent this. The leader of the gang is the man Davy nicknames Wolf who becomes aware of Davy’s abilities.

The Gift was a mini-series produced for the BBC in six half-hour episodes. It is based on The Gift (1973), a novel from British author Peter Dickinson who spent most of his career writing children’s books and occasional adult mysteries. Dickinson’s works were also adapted into the tv series Jackanory (1965-86) and The Changes (1975), while he also wrote the children’s tv series Mandog (1972).

There have been a number of films about clairvoyance and precognition. (See Films About Clairvoyance and Precognition). In the early 1970s, there was a spate of clairvoyance-themed US tv pilots with the likes of Baffled! (1972), The Eyes of Charles Sand (1972) and Visions (1972), although none of these ever went to series. There have also been various films on the subject with the likes of Eyes of Laura Mars (1978), Fear (1990), Hideaway (1995), In Dreams (1999), as well as Sam Raimi’s The Gift (2000), which is no relation to this series.

Almost all of the films in the Clairvoyance and Precognition theme fall into being thrillers. Despite being able to see the future, it seems that the various psychics never get glimpses of any of the mundane details about people’s lives – visions of them doing the dishes, going to the supermarket etc – but are always limited to visions of impending doom or cryptic clues that lead to the solving of murders.

The Gift is not too different in this regard. Davy receives assorted visions throughout – seeing his grandfather in the past; reading his father’s dreams; receiving visions of the payroll robbery and the bomb about to go off. We do get a couple of scenes that go beyond the thriller aspect with Davy reading the school bully (Richard Hanson)’s mind about his abusive home life and picking up his teacher (Roger Milner)’s romantic daydreams of a fellow teacher.

Tat Whalley as Davy Price in The Gift (1990)
Tat Whalley as Davy Price

The mini-series also adds a mythic backdrop about the mysterious character nicknamed Wolf (Gary Whelan) who may have given the family the gift centuries before. (It is never clear if Wolf is immortal or an ancestor of the person we see in the flashbacks). However, Wolf is no more than the equivalent of a McGuffin (if a person can be a McGuffin) – he drives all the drama that happens and casts an evil shadow and then just as easily takes the powers away again (all without ever actually speaking a word).

The Gift is an okay drama. It has a good cast, including a fifteen year-old Jodhi May. I was impressed with Tat Whalley who gives an intent serious performance that is full of troubled internal issues. I was surprised Whalley had not gone on to do much more than he has. There are also fine performances from Denys Graham and in particular Cynthia Grenville as Davy’s grandparents.

Anthony Horowitz is a well known name in British television where he has written numerous episodes of various crime series and created Foyle’s War (2002-15), a detective series set during the Wartime Blitz. In genre material, Horowitz is known for writing episodes of the tv series Robin of Sherwood (1983-6), as well as being creator of the time travel detective series Crime Traveller (1997) and the invisible man series The Vanishing Man (1998). By far the bulk of Anthony Horowitz’s writing has been his output of children’s books. The most popular of these was the Alex Rider series concerning a teenage spy, later filmed as Stormbreaker (2006) and the tv series Alex Rider (2020- ).

Welsh-born director Marc Evans went on to make the little seen Arthur’s Departure (1994) about time travellers attempting to snatch King Arthur; Resurrection Man (1998) about a gang of sadistic thugs conducting a reign of terror in Belfast; the reality tv horror My Little Eye (2002); the ghost story Trauma (2004) and the non-genre likes of Snow Cake (2006), Patagonia (2010) and Hunky Dory (2011).

Mini-series available beginning with Episode 1 here

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