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.
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