Not such a green and pleasant land after all...

New film Sightseers shows rural Britain at its creepiest

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

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'