Play for Today Penda's Fen


Comedy / Drama


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June 06, 2016 at 03:59 PM



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1hr 30 min
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1hr 30 min
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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Prismark10 6 / 10

A Malvern Hills tale

Alan Clarke was better known as a social realist director with films such as Scum or The Firm. He was an unlikely choice to direct Penda's Fen by writer David Rudkin, a type of film that could happily be made by someone like Terrence Malick.

The film is about Spencer Franklin, a vicar's son, studying at sixth form and about to turn 18 year of age. He is going through a rites of passage that involves a spiritual and sexual awakening particularly his latent homosexuality bubbling underneath.

It is this sexual confusion plus the arrival of a socialist writer in this quiet Worcestershire village leads Stephen to moral confusion and he starts to lose his grip on reality. He dreams of a demon sitting on his bed, he meets composer Edward Elgar, he finds out that he is adopted and finally meets King Penda, the last pagan king of England.

Penda's Fen was shown for the Play for Today strand on BBC television. It has now been cleaned up for a Blu-Ray release. The films use of visuals and use of classical music gives it a haunting quality but the script and the way it is delivered by the actors was rather flat.

There is no doubt that this is an ambitious and avantgarde work but I felt that the reputation it has acquired is overstated.

Reviewed by Tom Dooley 8 / 10

Stunning and accomplished TV play that they just done make any more with a beautiful restoration.

Made for the BBC 'Play for Today' series in 1974 and written by visionary David Rudkin, this is a film that still manages to have a massive impact even after the passing of so many years. It is about Stephen Franklin who is the son of a rather profound Reverend. He is about to turn eighteen and is going through a rites of passage crisis. This is both spiritual and sexual.

He is unintentionally spurred on by the left wing views of a Socialist writer who is now living in the small rural village and he is smitten with the music of Elgar. The film tracks his spiral towards finding who he really is, his nature as opposed to his nurtured self. His posh school is the sort that has Greek and Latin mottos everywhere, one such being 'discover thyself' but his discoveries lead him to be seen as 'not one of the team.

The film is replete with imagery and ghosts or dreams of the past which reflects the journey that Stephen is going on but also helps to expand the stories behind the story and is often done in an iconic fashion. It is also beautifully framed and shot and the musical score helps to elucidate more meaning from seemingly simplistic imagery. This is one of those films that will make you think and is the sort that will give you more on subsequent viewings. I am already wanting to see it again as there is so much here to drink in with both your eyes and mind that I a bound to have missed some on my first viewing. Absolutely recommended to anyone interested in this time in TV development or those who love a stunningly well made, written and directed film.

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