Kes inspired me to smash Oxbridge ivory towers


Christopher Eccleston says Ken Loach’s film changed his view on “art for working class people”.

Christopher Eccleston has said Ken Loach’s Kes changed his view of “art and culture for working class people” and inspired him to take up acting to smash Oxbridge’s “ivory towers”.

The 59-year-old star recently read A Kestrel for a Knave, the book that inspired the 1969 film, for BBC Four.

He said Loach’s film of a boy who bonds with a kestrel had been the “most important cultural event” of his life.

The Salford-born actor added that it was the “greatest British film ever”.

The film, which was released a year after Barry Hines’s novel, won several awards when it was first released and was later ranked seventh in the British Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest British films of the 20th Century.

The former Doctor Who star, whose career has taken in films, television and the stage, told BBC North West Tonight that seeing it as a child inspired him to “smash down the ivory towers built by Oxbridge and public school and get into the arts world”.

“It changed my entire view of myself, of art and culture for working class people,” he said.

“It was an absolutely transformative experience.”

The film tells the story of Billy Casper, a working class boy who finds hope and fulfilment when he adopts a young kestrel and begins training it.

Eccleston said he was “completely and utterly beguiled by the idea that a working class individual like myself and my brothers and my mother and father could have a wonderful skill and could have a dream to be lifted from the pit, as in Billy’s case, or the factories in my mum and dad’s and my case”.

“I saw the film before I read the book and it changed my life entirely,” he said.

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From Enys Men to The Witch: What’s behind cinema’s folk horror boom?

Eloise Hendy delves into the genre that turns the pastoral idyll into a place of terror, and asks what’s behind this obsession with the natural world, magic cults, standing stones and feminine powers

By Eloise Hendy

In Enys Men – the much-anticipated new film written and directed by Cornish filmmaker Mark Jenkin, whose last feature, Bait (2019), earned him a Bafta for Outstanding Debut – a woman in walking boots, jeans, and a translucent red anorak trudges across gorsy moorland towards a cliff face. She clambers down, perches on a rocky outcrop, and stares intently at a few white flowers as they sway in the wind, high above clamorous waves below.

Every day she studies these flowers. Then, every day she drops a rock into an abandoned tin mine’s inky depths, and stands listening for a distant thud. She returns to an isolated, ivy-covered cottage. A standing stone sticks out of the landscape like an ancient dagger-head. The woman pulls the cord of a power generator, makes a pot of tea, listens to the scratchy, indistinct noises of a radio communication device, and, in a logbook, records the date – April 1973 – and the words ‘”no change”. At bedtime, by candlelight, she reads an environmental manifesto titled Blueprint for Survival. Snatched glimpses of the cover reveal a quote in red: “Nightmarishly convincing… After reading it nothing quite seems the same any more.”

This phrase goes to the heart of this strange, spectral work of cinema. Even calling it a film feels wrong somehow; it feels more like a fever dream, or hallucination. For, almost as soon as the unnamed wildlife volunteer’s routine comes into focus for the viewer, it starts to fracture. Lichen blooms on her flowers and on a scar that stretches across her abdomen. Grubby-faced men holding pickaxes stare at her from the mineshaft; sailors lost at sea grin and drip outside her front door; a girl in white bell bottoms stands on the outhouse roof. Steadily, the whole far-flung landscape begins to teem with apparitions. They are both convincing and nightmarish; nothing quite seems the same any more. Is the volunteer losing her mind? Or merging with an ancient Cornish terrain – one riddled with myth and old scars, like her lichen-sprouting stomach?

In a statement accompanying Enys Men (which is pronounced Ennis Main, and means “stone island” in Cornish), Jenkin suggests his starting point for the film was a single question: “What if the landscape was not only alive, but sentient?” Long fascinated by Cornish standing stones and their accompanying legends – one of which imagines the rocks as the petrified remains of a group of young girls, punished for dancing – Jenkin found himself imagining what these stones and remote moorlands might get up to under cover of darkness. “Almost inevitably, considering the setting,” he writes, “the idea was inclined towards folk horror.”

Jenkin is far from the only contemporary filmmaker inclined in this direction. Indeed, for at least a decade we have been in the midst of a magnificent folk horror revival. But why has this strange subgenre of standing stones and spectral presences captured the imagination of filmmakers and audiences in the UK and beyond? What does the folk horror boom say about our contemporary fears?

The term itself only went mainstream in 2010, when Mark Gatiss used it in the BBC documentary series The History of Horror to describe three British films now known as the Unholy Trinity: Witchfinder General (1968), The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), and The Wicker Man (1973). It is certainly no coincidence then that Enys Men is set in 1973, as, making the film, it was precisely these cinematic roots Jenkin wanted to rummage in. “For me,” Jenkin writes, “folk horror has very English connotations. The stripping away of a pastoral layer of Merrie England to reveal an earlier Celtic and pagan past full of perceived brutality, deviance and threat.” Yet, since Gatiss first invoked the genre, cinemagoers on both sides of the Atlantic have been offered up Ben Wheatley’s Kill List (2011) and A Field in England (2013), Paul Wright’s For Those in Peril (2013), James Crow’s Curse of The Witching Tree (2015), Robert Egger’s The VVitch (subtitled “A New England Folktale”), Ari Aster’s Midsommar, Scott Cooper’s Antlers (2021) and, most recently, Alex Garland’s Men (2022). All present nightmarish visions of a deviant, occult and cult-addled countryside. And that is far from an exhaustive list. Continue reading

Michael Parkinson was a maestro of the golden age of British television

Parkinson, who has died aged 88, will be remembered for his blend of entertainment and serious thinking, a rare combination today

By Donald Clarke | The Irish Times

It is easy to get sentimental about the often-touted golden age of British television in the 1970s. But there really was a period when one of the BBC’s biggest shows allowed guests 20 minutes (or more) to chew over everything that mattered to them.

Michael Parkinson
Michael Parkinson

Michael Parkinson, who has died at the age of 88, was a maestro in the art of interviewing. During the first run of his eponymous show – lasting from 1971 until 1982 – he carried out justifiably legendary interviews with the likes of Muhammad Ali, Orson Welles, David Niven, Peter Ustinov and Lauren Bacall. It would not be entirely correct to say he displayed no ego. A proud – and unmistakable – Yorkshireman with strong opinions, he would occasionally prod his subjects in provocative fashion, but they were always allowed space to roam about the conversational hinterland. Often the stars had books or films to flog. Sometimes, they just happened to be in town. We were, however, in a very different place to the offshoots of the PR business that often now pass for talkshows. It really does seem like a golden age.

Parkinson always saw himself as a journalist first. Born near Barnsley in the UK, he attended grammar school, excelled as a club cricketer and, after cutting his teeth on school papers, landed a job on features at the Manchester Guardian (yet to lose the “Manchester” from its masthead). Just old enough to undergo national service, he saw action during the Suez crisis. On return, he moved into television, working in current affairs for Granada and on the BBC’s magazine series 24 Hours. The Parkinson show began in a late-night slot on Saturday and fast became an unmissable institution.

Parkinson’s grounding in print journalism held him in good stead. He always did his research. He actually listened to what his guest was saying. The interviews were usually good natured, but tensions – famously with Ali – occasionally added spice to the entertainment. Parkinson called the boxer, whom he interviewed on four occasions, “the most remarkable man I ever met”, but the chats did not always glisten with bonhomie. “You do not have enough,” Ali once cut back. “You are too small mentally to tackle me on nothing that I represent.” Parkinson was unshaken. “Must have been a good question I asked you because you’ve been talking for about 15 minutes,” he responded. Continue reading

Great classical music inspired by the British countryside

The British countryside has inspired many of the great classical composers. Jeremy Pound from BBC Music Magazine selects his five favourite pieces that evoke the atmosphere of nature and landscape

By Fergus Collins

Music has a unique power to convey emotion and atmosphere. It can summon the imagination, stir the soul and evoke memories. For centuries, great composers have walked in the countryside to find creative stimulation and many have been inspired to capture and evoke the mood and the feel of the places they encountered. Birdsong, wind in the trees, a river running – all these have been the source of many wonderful compositions. And music also has the power to transport us, the listeners, to sweeping downland, meadows of wildflowers or a storm in a woodland.

In a recent BBC Countryfile Magazine podcast – the Plodcast – Jeremy Pound of BBC Music Magazine took Plodcast host Fergus Collins for a walk in the Cotswolds to talk about which composers’ works were the most evocative of the British countryside. The Cotswold Hills and the nearby Malvern Hills were, it seems, particularly fertile landscapes for composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams and Edward Elgar. You can listen to this podcast episode here. 

You can also listen the Spotify playlist for this podcast episode.

Five great pieces of music inspired by the British countryside

So when you can’t get out to the countryside yourself, why not tune in to stunning music that brings the natural world into your living room? From the song of a skylark above the downlands of southern England to the ancient brooding presence of a Dorset heath, these five works – selected by Jeremy Pound of BBC Music Magazine – summon uplifting and mood-changing visions of the green outdoors. But let’s add to this list – please do tell us of your own

Ralph Vaughan Williams

The Lark Ascending

In this gorgeous work written in 1914, a solo violin represents the lark, spiralling and soaring ever upwards into the sky. It is accompanied by a subdued and almost ominous orchestral backdrop – does it represent dark clouds gathering? Much of Vaughan Williams’ work was inspired by rural folk songs and settings – another wonderful piece to enjoy is Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tullis.

Frederick Delius

On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring

Another bird, this time in the Bradford-born Delius’s short work for orchestra. In this instance, the call of the cuckoo is heard in the oboe and, later, the clarinet, while a soft, gentle melody in the strings promises sunny days ahead.

Arnold Bax

November Woods

Bax’s 1917 symphonic poem for orchestra has, as the title suggests, a wonderfully autumnal feel. A storm gathers in the first half but eventually the music subsides into a calmer mood. Few works conjure up the British weather so deftly.

Gustav Holst

Egdon Heath

Though the title of Holst’s 1927 orchestral work comes from a fictional location depicted by Thomas Hardy, the composer was initially inspired to write it by long walks in the south of England. The musical landscape here is rugged, and sometimes even foreboding.

Edward Elgar

Cello Concerto

Is an ageing Elgar looking back over recent global and personal trauma in this majestic but mournful 1919 work, or expressing the beauty of the British countryside? A bit of both, one feels – he himself associated a passage from it with the Malvern Hills.

Source: Great classical music inspired by the British countryside