10 August 2016

AKENFIELD. (1974) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.




THE BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE PRESENTS: AKENFIELD. (1974) BASED ON THE BESTSELLING BOOK BY RONALD BLYTHE CALLED 'AKENFIELD: PORTRAIT OF AN ENGLISH VILLAGE.'
DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY PETER HALL. PRODUCED AND EDITED BY REX PYKE. MADE BY PEOPLE OF SUFFOLK.
STARRING GARROW SHAND, PEGGY COLE, BARBARA TILNEY AND LYN BROOKS.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a marvellous film with an unforgettable back-story. I can't believe it's only coming to my attention now, some forty-four years after it was made. You'd think a film like this would be better-known than it apparently is, but in fact the opposite is actually the case.

This little-seen gem of a movie is out now in a Dual Format Edition (DVD and BLU-RAY) thanks to the wonderful folk at the British Film Institute, who obviously thought it was about time that it was introduced to a new and wider audience. Hear hear, as they say.

Having seen the film for myself now and watched a number of the extra features, including wonderful interviews with the writer, the director, the producer and the leading man, I thoroughly approve of their decision. Now let's see what it's all about, shall we?

The narrator of the film is an old man called Tom Rouse, whose funeral is about to take place when we, the viewers, come in. In fact, all the action takes place over the course of this one day, but there are also flashbacks to Tom's earlier life too. Let me explain.

There are three 'Toms' in the film, each played by the one man, Garrow Shand. Tom Rouse from the present day (the 'late Sixties or early 'Seventies) is a farm-hand who's bored to death of his narrow little life in his narrow little house in the narrow little country village of Akenfield.

He's so fed-up he's actually thinking of jacking it all in and going to Australia, much to the distress of his middle-aged widowed mother and his school-teacher girlfriend, Jean. On the day of his grandfather's funeral, Tom wanders around the village in a reflective kind of a way, thinking things over and being confronted at every turn by visions of his dead grandfather as a young lad, doing the things that young farmhands used to do in the first half of the century. Believe me when I tell you that life was no picnic back then...

Garrow Shand, an actual real life farm-hand himself at the time and not an actor at all, also plays his grand-dad as a young fellow and he even plays his own father, who died in World War Two and whom he never knew. This is how his mum came to be bringing young Tom up on her own.

The amazing thing about the film is that none of the cast are professional actors, just nice ordinary local Suffolk folk who'd lived there all their lives. That being the case, the whole film has the air almost of a documentary, so real and natural are the performances and also the dialogue. The writer Ronald Blythe actually plays the vicar in the film, which is such a lovely personal touch.

The point of the grandfather's narrative is to tell both the viewer and his modern-day grandson that farming, especially for someone else and on a farm you'll never inherit, is a tough arduous life and almost a mug's game. 

He talks about how it wears down the body and your physical strength until you've no energy left for anything else. He describes a life more or less devoid of pleasures but filled to the brim with hard back-breaking graft and financial worries. Is he warning his grandson off making a lifelong career out of being a farm-hand himself?

We see Tom (the grandfather), a veteran of World War One, marrying a young housemaid whom he's tumbled in the bushes of the 'Big House' even before he gets the ring on her finger. They celebrate their wedding night on the same night the year's harvest is completed but sadly, Tom can't keep his eyes open long enough to properly consummate the marriage and Charlotte's good nightie goes to waste, at least for now...!

Their married life is undoubtedly tougher than they'd expected. They row over money in a cramped living space while the baby cries incessantly and Tom's not above dishing out the odd slap to his complaining missus when her moaning becomes too much to bear. It all seems about par for
the course, really, doesn't it, or am I just being horribly cynical...?

If the modern-day Tom marries Jean, his life won't be much different to his grandfather's. He already has a similar grudging, almost resentful relationship with his old mum whom he lives with and who grumbles night and day about everything under the sun while Tom mostly ignores her. It's not a very close, loving relationship. It's almost a dead cert that a marriage to Jean will only cause history to be repeated.

Should young Tom follow in his grandfather's footsteps and stay in the same place his whole life? Or should he take the older Tom's advice (admittedly from beyond the grave!) and get out there and see the world?

Or would that be the coward's way out, leaving his mother and fiancée in the lurch while he gallivants around Australia living the life of Reilly, whoever that might be? It's Tom's choice. He seems like the kind of guy who'd put his own needs before those of others, so we'll just have to wait and see what he comes up with.

Akenfield in Grand-dad Tom's day was like this charming, peaceful little rural idyll but there was a bit of a sting beneath all the beauty. Poverty, the binding ties of marriage and children, two world wars and the endless grind on the farm tended to undermine that beauty and eat away at it like acid. Tom the Elder broke his back, figuratively speaking, working on another man's farm nearly his whole life. Clearly he feels that his grandson shouldn't make the same mistakes his Grand-dad did...

The scenery in the film is utterly gorgeous. There are acres and acres of peaceful green English fields on display, along with beautiful trees and skies and miles and miles of verdant hedgerows. The film itself has been lovingly restored by the BFI National Archive and it just looks fantastic, even today, four decades later. 'Oh, to be in England...!' Whoever said that, it's obvious what he meant. This quiet little village in Suffolk fits the bill exactly.

Key scenes include the incredible opening conversation between Tom and his mum and also the 'waiting for the funeral cars' scene which feels so real it could actually be real, if you know what I mean. Find out what a rainy day can mean for a farmhand who desperately needs his day's pay, and learn also which single possession means so much to Tom the Elder that he's prepared to-ahem- show his willy to get it back...!

Also check out the grim schoolroom scene and the one scene in the film in which the disturbing chasm between the rich landowners and the poor farm-hands is highlighted. This last scene is superbly done, to the point where it sent an actual shiver frisson-ing down my spine.

I loved the interview with the still handsome Garrow Shand in which he laughingly admits leaving his real-life work van around the village during filming to get a bit of exposure and publicity for his business as a farmhand-for-hire.

He's so lovely and down-to-earth about his unexpected transition from farmer to actor and then back to farmer again, though of course nowadays he's got his own business and people work for him, which is nice to know.

In fact, I love everything about this film, from the gorgeous leading man to Michael Tippett's magical musical score to the delightful back-story. It may have been long-unseen for years but, now that I've finally seen it, it'll certainly never be forgotten in my house at least.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

 You can contact Sandra at:


http://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com







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