20 August 2016



This is an amazing film, telling the story of the Jones family who live on a farm on the Welsh borders and chronicling a whopping eighty years of their struggles and comings-and-goings. The book on which it was based was written by Bruce Chatwin, a married bisexual writer who only produced a handful of books before dying in 1989 of an AIDS-related illness.

Crediting with single-handedly reviving the genre of travel writing, he seems to have been one of those lucky writers who gained the respect of other writers, many of whom he influenced. Werner Herzog, for example, was a firm friend and admirer and in fact filmed Chatwin's 1980 novel, THE VICEROY OF OUIDAH, as COBRA VERDE starring the charismatic Klaus Kinski.

Chatwin (1940-1989) was a handsome chap who understandably concealed his illness because of the horrible stigma attached to it. In so doing, however, he incurred the wrath of the gay community who felt that perhaps his high profile could have raised awareness of the dreaded disease in his home country of England. Having AIDS back then, though, was a death sentence and I suppose you can hardly blame people for choosing to handle its grim spectre in different ways.

ON THE BLACK HILL is one of his most well-known books. We first of all meet Mary Latimer, a not-too young vicar's daughter living in the late 19th century who's educated, refined and well-travelled, having been to India and the Holy Land by virtue of her position. She also just so happens to be a really lovely person.

She's marvellously played by Gemma Jones, whom we probably know better as Bridget Jones's dotty mother, the one who does the turkey curry buffets at Christmas and makes Bridget wear silly festive jumpers with reindeer on them when she comes to partake of said buffet. I've always loved that line on Bridget's answering machine which, by the way, you must read in an automated voice:

'You have no messages, not even from your mother...!'

Anyway, when the vicar dies, Mary marries local farmer Amos Jones, a dour puritanical fellow who attracts her deeply at first but who turns out to be fierce hard work once they're married and set up in a little farm which Mary's former position has helped to acquire for them.

This latter fact rankles with Amos for the rest of his life. Instead of being grateful for the farm and for bagging a remarkable woman like Mary at his time of life, he holds her breeding and former life of relative privilege against her. He's a hard-working farmer and no doubt a good provider as well for his wife and their twin sons and one daughter, but his occasional outbursts of violence mar their lives.
There's one scene where Mary places a delicious-looking plate of steaming hot chicken curry and rice in front of him when he comes in from the fields. He takes one bite of it, burns his tongue and then hurls the whole thing to the floor, shouting at her that he doesn't want any of 'her filthy Indian food.'

It's hard to like him when he does stuff like that. That was a perfectly good dinner he ruined, the grumpy sod! He hits her across the face with a book she's been reading another time, a despicable act born out of terrible problems they've been having with their neighbour, a sly intransigent fellow called Watkins, but it's an act of domestic violence nonetheless that shows him in a poor light.

I love all the scenes that show the stunningly-photographed Welsh countryside, especially in the driving rain, the hard work that goes into running the farm every day and also the home-births of Amos and Mary's children, twin boys Lewis and Benjamin born in 1900 and, later, a daughter Rebecca.

The film begins and ends with the twins and it's really meant to be about their story, showing how two world wars, girlfriends and lovers, hard work and the passage of time fail to separate the inseparable pair, but it's their parents' story and struggles that really captured my imagination.

This beautifully-shot film is being released in a special Dual Format Edition by the British Film Institute on August 22nd 2016. In addition to having your choice of DVD or Blu-Ray, you'll have a delectable host of extra features in there as well to make you feel like you're getting value for money.

These will include a newly-filmed interview with the director Andrew Grieve, a complete screenplay and original press book (downloadable PDFs- DVD only) and an illustrated booklet with writing by Andrew Grieve, Jonathan Chatwin and others and also full film credits.

I must mention the sheep, the woolly non-talking stars of the film, who were absolutely adorable throughout the film, and also Benjamin Whitrow, who was superb as the super-English chappie Arkwright. He seemed to be some sort of representative of the English overlords and landowners in the area, and he also appeared not to sympathise with the poor Welsh farmers in the slightest.

I don't know much about the politics of the thing but it seemed awfully unfair when the Jones's and their fellow Welsh neighbours had to bid at auction for their own farms and risk losing them into the bargain, just because the English owners of the land had decided to put their land up for sale. Those were tough times for the poor farmer, seemingly.

There's a heartbreaking scene towards the end of the film where Lewis wonders out loud if his life wouldn't have been better if he and Benjamin (who's the image of Chandler Bing from sitcom FRIENDS, played by Matthew Perry) hadn't been joined at the hip for the whole of their lives. Perhaps he could have gotten married, had children and a life of his own. As things stand, the two brothers seem destined to spend every waking moment of the rest of their lives together. Every sleeping moment too, as you'll see when you watch the film...!

Anyway, this is a wonderful film about rural life and outlooks back in the (mostly!) bad old days and, if you think you'd like to see it, now really is the time, thanks to the good old British Film Institute. I sincerely hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.


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:


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