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(aka "Play for Today: Robin Redbreast" )

 

directed by James MacTaggart
UK 1970

 

After a long uncommitted relationship comes to a close, script editor Norah Palmer (Anna Cropper, DEAD OF NIGHT's "The Exorcism") - who hates waste of any kind (including the years she put into the relationship) - decides to clear her head by going to stay at the country cottage - known locally as "The Place of Birds" - they restored but never used. At first she finds the village and the villagers slightly eccentric - from nosy housekeeper Mrs. Vigo (Freda Bamford, THE IPCRESS FILE) to learned Mr. Fisher (Bernard Hepton, BARRY LYNDON) to handsome karate-kicking hermit handyman Rob (stuntman Andy Bradford, FLASH GORDON) - but soon begins to suspect something more sinister behind the quaint local observance of ancient traditions. When she becomes pregnant during a Harvest Festival day dalliance with Rob - her contraceptive cap (or "precautions") having disappeared mysteriously only to reappear afterwards - Norah flees back to the city while deciding what to do about the baby. When she returns to the country late in her pregnancy, she realizes that she has been part of a sinister plot and a series of coincidences makes it impossible for her to get away before the town's Easter observances (with whatever plans the locals have for her baby). Amanda Walker (FIERCE CREATURES) and Julian Holloway (DEAD OF NIGHT's "A Woman Sobbing" also penned by Bowen) also star as Norah's city friends.

Although BFI's essay booklet identifies ROBIN REDBREAST as a precursor to THE WICKER MAN's brand of "folk horror", it also acknowledges certain predecessors like Hammer's THE WITCHES (1966) and BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW (1970). John Bowen's teleplay, inspired by the pitchfork murder of a hermit in an English village a few years before and the growing interest/resurgence of Paganism following the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in the fifties, is not overtly supernatural; but it does not have to be as the divide between cynicism as represented by the urbanites ("Something boring has happened: I appear to be pregnant") and the belief of the locals (Norah initially ascribes more prurient motives to certain characters' actions and does not immediately make connections between events because "it's such a complicated plot if it is a plot"). Had Norah not returned to the village for the finale, the script could just as believably have continued on as a drama about a middle-aged single mother in conservative seventies Britain (the very mention of the contraceptive cap was enough for Bowen's script to be rejected for the suspense series for which it was originally conceived). Although the color video production only survives as a black and white 16mm telerecording, the soft, monochrome image contributes to the dreamlike feel as well as enhancing the chilly and desolate atmosphere.

Eric Cotenas

Theatrical Release: 10 December 1970 (UK TV)

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DVD Review: British Film Institute - Region 2 - PAL

Big thanks to Eric Cotenas for the Review!

DVD Box Cover

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Distribution

British Film Institute

Region 2 - PAL

Runtime 1:16:30
Video

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: ~7.5 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Subtitles English, none
Features Release Information:
Studio: British Film Institute

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.33:1

Edition Details:
• Interview with writer John Bowen (11:24)
• 1937 short film 'Around the Village Green' by Evelyn Spice and Marion Grierson (4:3; 11:14)
• 'Test Card F' - for calibration of picture and sound
• Booklet featuring 'Hunting for Sherds: Robin Redbreast' by Vic Pratt, 'Robin Redbreast and John Bowe

DVD Release Date: October 28th, 2013
Amaray

Chapters 12

 

Comments

BFI's dual-layer DVD probably looks as good as it can considering that the source is a B&W 16mm telerecording of color video production (the video master having likely been wiped for reuse of the tape stock). The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track has been digitally cleaned up without clipping the high ends to eradicate all of the hiss (optional English subtitles are also provided).

The main extra is an interview with writer John Bowen who reveals that the exteriors were shot at his own South Kensington Cottage (with the studio interiors recreations of the real location), and also discusses the many real life events and people that inspired the story (a local schoolmaster hunting for sherds in his garden and a karate-kicking gamekeeper among other things). He mentions that he wrote the script for another BBC suspense series, but it was rejected because of the scene with the contraceptive cap. He also discusses how director James MacTaggart became aware of the script, and his subsequent BBC career. The disc also includes a booklet that covers the background in greater depth including the real life crime that inspired the film.

Less relevant but still interesting is the 1937 short film "Around the Village Green" co-directed by Marion Grierson - sister of British documentarist John Grierson - and Canadian documentarist/social activist Evelyn Spice about the traditional English village. The short was scored by famed composer and conductor Benjamin Britten.

  - Eric Cotenas

 


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DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

Distribution

British Film Institute

Region 2 - PAL

 




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