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Based on Mervyn Peake's novel Titus Groan, Gormenghast focuses on life in the eponymous castle, ruled by the Groan family for over 70 generations.
Gormenghast castle's dynasty and time honoured rituals are threatened by the charming and evil Steerpike (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). He's determined to leave his menial position as kitchen boy and achieve ultimate control of the House of Groan for himself.
On the day that the future heir to the throne, Titus Groan (Cameron Powrie/Andrew N. Robertson) is born, Steerpike begins his ruthless ascent to power. He escapes the hellish kitchens whilst the monstrous Swelter (Richard Griffiths) and Flay (Christopher Lee), the Groans' loyal retainer, argue. Steerpike finds himself in the bedroom of Titus' sister, Fuchsia (Neve McIntosh) and charms her into letting him accompany her on a visit to Dr Prunesquallor (John Sessions), the castle physician.
Here, he ingratiates himself into Prunesquallor's service and, from this toehold of power, quickly becomes confidant to Titus' aunts Clarice (ZoŽ Wanamaker) and Clora (Lynsey Baxter). He plays on their vanity and greed, manipulating them into setting fire to the library of Lord Groan (Ian Richardson), the 76th Earl, during a family gathering.
Steerpike becomes a hero by stage managing the rescue of the family from the burning library. Lord Groan is driven mad by the loss of his precious books. The stand-off between the two men is interrupted by the wanderings of Lord Groan. The old Earl makes his way to the Tower of Flints, followed by his warring servants, where Swelter and Flay continue their fight resulting in the death of Swelter.
Lord Groan releases the owls, which inhabit the tower, and they peck him to death. Taunted by Steerpike, Flay offends Gertrude and is banished from the castle. Still only a toddler, Titus is declared the new Earl at a magnificent ceremony.
As Titus grows into childhood then adolescence, he rebels at the restrictions of Gormenghast's ritual-bound way of life and seeks ways of escape. He grows to resent and despise the ever-more ambitious Steerpike, who's gradually pursuing Titus' beloved sister Fuchsia.
When Steerpike becomes Master of Ritual himself (although he's scarred for life in the fire that kills his predecessor), Titus decides he's had enough.
But significant acts of treachery, which Titus discovers, with the help of faithful Flay, force his hand.† Steerpike must run, and fight, for his life, over the rooftops of a Gormenghast flooded by torrential rains
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