More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)
This was a cinema premiere of A Very English Winter : The Unthanks, a film made for t.v. (for BBC Four), introduced by the film-maker, who had perhaps prepared a little too much to say for such an occasion. Although Rachel Unthank and her sister Becky (Rebecca) were mentioned as clog-dancers as well as folk-singers, they had no opportunity to demonstrate the former skills, although they did take place in what was called a molly dance (which would originally have been to seek to raise funds for the ploughboys at the start of the traditional agricultural year) and one in which six dancers with swords came together to form a star.
Rachel and Becky ventured south to Lincolnshire, to Ramsey in Cambridgeshire, and Lewes in Sussex, but were not in the south-west at all, and otherwise in Yorkshire or nearby counties. The film ran chronologically and comprised six or seven events, starting with Hallowe’en and a mummer’s play, in which The Black Prince tried to attack King George. The prince was killed, but revived by a doctor with various potions, before Beelzebub put in an appearance and stole someone’s pint, which he impressively downed in one.
Whether quite, as the commentary by The Unthanks claimed, these various traditions such as lighting tar-barrels (carried on the head), parading through Lewes in costume and with huge numbers of fireworks on 5 November, and singing carols to lively melodies that had been written in the seventeeth and eighteenth century and banned by the church as too riotous showed adherence to beliefs other than wanting to do what previous generations had done (as was attested by cine footage) is perhaps doubtful: the anti-popery banners in Lewes turned out to be said to relate to an unnamed holder of papal power who, if he had been as bad, would have been one of the anti-popes anyway, and, although driving away evil figured in the mummer’s play, it was not obvious whether people did believe in ‘the embodiment of evil’.
As it is, I think that our traditions of writing and portraying evil on the screen do often show it as other, as the blacked-up Black Prince* was: we have a Lord Voldemort or a Hannibal to relate to and to wish for his undoing, even if life is maybe a little more complicated than that.
* In truth, The Black Prince was an honourable knight, much loved and his death bewailed, as the glory of his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral shows, with all his ‘achievements’, i.e. his gauntlets, plumes, helm, etc., above him (these are copies, with the originals on view nearby), making clear that he was valued as the height of chivalry.
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