Not such a green and pleasant land after all...
New film Sightseers shows rural Britain at its creepiest
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Wednesday 28 November 2012
What do you think of when you think of the great British countryside? Verdant fields and winding lanes? Charming tea shops and historic houses? Sightseers, the story of a couple on a British caravanning trip, and the latest film from Kill List director Ben Wheatley, has all of the above. It also has spree killing, dog-kidnapping and loud sex in a motorway lay-by.
This might not be chocolate-box Britain, but this eerier, anarchic vision of rural life is just as traditional, if not more so. It stretches back into our pagan prehistory, winds through the 15th- and 16th-century witch trials, and was cemented by a sub-strand of psychedelic folk and British horror movies of the 1960s and 70s. Most famously, there's The Wicker Man (1973), a film so iconic, that even Chris Crowley, the chairman of Britain's Pagan Federation can forgive it its sins. "I think most pagans really like that film. I mean, it is a cult classic, but that doesn't mean we do anything like that either."
Sightseers, with its chicken sacrifices and soundtrack use of Donovan's "Season of the Witch", nods towards a British horror tradition. It also encompasses very funny moments of black comedy, and a much less British antecedent; the spree-killer road movie à la True Romance, Bonnie and Clyde and Kalifornia.
In these films, the homicidal lovebirds drive across vast expanses of land, as desolate as their amoral souls. There's a reason why all these films were shot stateside, says Wheatley. "I think the thing that American road movies have, is that they don't have any roundabouts, so you can go a lot further in a straight line. I wouldn't like to see Dennis Hopper riding around a roundabout on his chopper in Easy Rider. It would have been a bit awkward."
In fact, as Sightseers illustrates, there are plenty of spots in rural Britain as awe-inspiring as they are potentially creepy. Kit and Holly in Badlands may have had the badlands of South Dakota, but Chris and Tina in Sightseers have the lunar landscape of Honister Pass in the Lake District and the imposing Ribblehead Viaduct in North Yorkshire.
"You forget how remote you can get [in Britain]" says Harvey Edgington, broadcasting and media manager for the National Trust. "Once you get into the ponds and the woods, and it's night and maybe you're alone, the scale doesn't matter. When you're scared, you're scared." He lists some of the film industry's favourite creepy locations as the "dark and forbidding" Frithsden Beeches wood at Ashridge in Hertfordshire, where The Descent (2005) and Sleepy Hollow (1999) were shot and Frensham Ponds in Surrey, which was the lake in Eden Lake (2009) and the Nile in The Mummy (1999).
This, and not Satan worshipping, is also what pagans are all about, says Crowley (no relation to Aleister): "Pagans see themselves very much as being part of nature and in tune with the natural cycle." Yet despite this shared viewpoint, directors of British horror movies and real-life pagans have not always seen eye to eye. This probably has something to do with film-makers' habit of depicting pagans as orgiastic sacrificers of small fluffy animals and virgins etc. "I mean obviously paganism celebrates the life cycle and so in honouring the seasonal year, you're aware of, y'know, fertility and things like that," says Crowley, "But people who don't know any better assume that we're all having a wonderful sexy time." And are they? Banish thoughts of Britt Ekland's nude cavorting in The Wicker Man or the semi-nude fireside dancing in Sightseers – not true, says Crowley. "Did you notice the terrible summer we had? Nobody's going to be out there in that."
'Sightseers' is released on Friday
Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Asteroid narrowly scrapes past Earth: how to watch the closest space rock for decades as it flies by
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
- 4 British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
- 5 Watch Richard Dawkins read his own hatemail: 'I hope you do get sodomised by satanic monkeys in hell'
Mr Selfridge series 3: Actress Kara Tointon says 'we're starting to see his demise'
Ed Sheeran texts Noel Gallagher to offer him tickets after Wembley Stadium rant
Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors
Emma Watson to play Belle in Beauty and the Beast
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
30,000 reasons why the rhetoric on immigrants claiming benefits can stop now