The story of a woman who loved three men for their different ways and discovered after many a heartache, that her first love was also her true love. Edward the Peacemaker was on the throne of England when Joanna Godden's father died and bequeathed a large farm on the Romney Marsh of Kent. Beautiful, impetuous, self-willed, Joanna determined to defy convention and - a mere woman - run the farm herself. Her decision outraged the whole shire - not least her farmer neighbour Arthur Alce. Written by
There's a scene where the camera looks at the face of Googie Withers, playing Joanna Godden, as she sleeps on the shingle at Dungeness. The lips- a thin, firm upper lip and a full sensuous lower lip- could sum up Joanna's nature: the division between desire and duty that dominates the film. The title only really makes sense if we include Joanna's love for her farm and farming as the dominant one.
In 1905 Joanna takes over her dead father's farm; because her fiancé, who owns the neighbouring farm, patronises her she rejects him and decides to run the farm herself. It's interesting because Joanna is not shown as a conscious feminist or someone who innovates for its own sake- some of her innovations fail, like cross-breeding to produce more twin lambs for market- but there's a later scene showing Joanna riding on a harvester on newly-ploughed and sown land producing fodder for her sheep where her exultation is manifest- a modern Boudicca in triumph. Nor is she depicted as enlightened. She is shocked that her younger, educated sister refuses to wear stays and when she is engaged to an educated man it is plain that there is a clash between the naturalness that attracts him and Joanna's own taste for over-elaborate and artificial Victoriana. In the end, of course, Joanna ends up with the neighbouring farmer.
The plot is episodic and the other characters are not properly developed or depicted- especially Joanna's discontented sister and her educated fiancé, whose death by drowning seems arbitrary too, although it is very effective as another depiction of nature's random cruelty- but it is well-worth watching for Withers' own performance. As well as the story there are fine depictions of the marsh- a brief series of scenes showing time passing with characteristic music by Vaughan Williams is wondefully imagined, and a quiet but obvious pleasure in the landscaper all the way through. In fact, it's a pity that the makers didn't have the courage to slow the film down and show more such scenes. It isn't a rural fantasy and is probably as realistic about farm life as a film then could be- indeed, the last scenes take place with a background of smoke from the holocaust of a foot-and-mouth outbreak.
The main reason I'd gone to the film was RVW's music and I wasn't disappointed. However, one very interesting aspect, especially compared with modern films, was how very restrained the use of music was, deliberately and carefully placed and often not there at all.
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