13 million people saw Akenfield on television when it was simultaneously broadcast on LWT and premiered at London's Paris Pullman cinema (a move that is still seen as forward-thinking today - see Soderbergh's Bubble). It was chosen to open the 1974 London Film Festival. It was critically acclaimed across the board and has been shown in festivals in Los Angeles, Moscow and Tehran. It is truly a beautiful, elegiac little film. So, why has it been so totally forgotten?
Based on Ronald Blythe's 1969 book of the same name, Peter Hall (the famous theatre director) was brought on board to adapt it for the screen. It follows the story of Tom, a farmer seeking to escape the suffocating traditions and ways of country life. His tale is intercut with those of both his father and grandfather, revealing just how little has changed in the village in almost a century. A portrait of a rural English village over the changing eras and seasons, the film was shot entirely in the real Akenfield. The shoot lasted one year, with work only undertaken on weekends.
Seeking the authenticity of rural life, Hall made his cast up of local people from Akenfield and the surrounding villages. This angered Equity, the actor's union, who placed the film on a blacklist. In order to appease their strict rules, it was decided the cast would largely play themselves and could not work to a script. Instead they improvised their lines on camera and were never allowed to repeat the same words verbatim. Thus, it was deemed, this could not be construed as "acting" and would therefore not fall under Equity's jurisdiction. The result is unfailingly understated performances that have a ring of truth so lacking in many larger budget films.
Ivan Strasburg, the cinematographer, shot only with available light, even when indoors. He was forced to pioneer a new diffusion technique from behind the lens. Whilst this was almost as much an economic decision as an aesthetic one, it lead to the film's sumptuous painterly quality. Some of the sun-drenched harvest sequences, for example, are as instantly beautiful as anything Vadim Yusov photographed for Tarkovsky at the peak of his powers.
A brilliant film that, had it been made in the canonised era of Italian neo-realism, would have been accordingly recognised as a classic. As it is, it is a forgotten gem that few people remember and even fewer are likely to see in the future. It is available on DVD through the Ipswich Film Theatre, and I highly recommend you hunt down a copy before it completely disappears.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?