Akenfield (1974) Poster


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Wonderfully restored piece of essential British cinema.
t-dooley-69-38691625 September 2016
Made in 1974 by film maker Peter Hall; this has now been restored to a high degree by the BFI. It is based on the book about a Suffolk village of the same name. It tells the story of the village of Akenfield through the lives who have lived there. This is centred around three generations of Tom Rouse.

It tells of the first Tom's life working on a farm and living in a tied cottage – always dreaming of owning his own land and being too over worked and poor to ever countenance such dreams to the waking hours. It tells of the love that draws him to home and the burning desire to get away as they co-mingle in his heart and mind.

This is done like a pastoral poem in places with the musical score perfectly balanced to capture the on screen mood and chemistry. It is part history, social commentary and part melancholy in its approach to a bucolic past that some would now miss and others are glad to be rid of. This is a film for those who take cinema seriously and love our shared history on film.
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A lost British gem
drunk-drunker-drunkest14 March 2007
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.
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Powerful, though not easy
spratton23 January 2011
Until now in 2011 I had not seen this film, and I am pleased and surprised to learn that so many millions watched it when it was first released. I already knew the book, of course. This was in a way my father's life; he saw the ending of the worst years, 1933 onwards, working on Suffolk farms, and his own stories matched this film exactly. He, like "Tom", might have gone on to a good school, but there was no money for that, and he started at age 14 on a Suffolk farm, living-in, "all found" and no wages at all for the first year. Luckily he was offered part time training at Chadacre Agricultural Institute, and became a skilled farm worker, herdsman, shepherd, and eventually a farm manager. "Boy" was his normal term of address or description for anyone. "Old boy from Swaffham" could mean a 15-year old or a pensioner. "There was no fat on them old boys" was how he described the men he worked with 75 years ago.

The film stuck to what it was like. There was no acting then, or in this film, just people saying things through the day, and always trying to settle or resolve all troubles with proverbs and sayings and mottoes. A closed world, really. The leaving was so difficult and so simple, so treacherous --- how dare you? Not like other films, but the story deserved to be told, and told just like this is. I'd like to thjank Peter Hall for making this film.
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An over-rated "arty" film?
Al1G18 November 2004
I watched this film when it first came out in 1974 as there was a lot of publicity about what a revolutionary film it was and it was set locally to where I was living at the time, Cambridge, England.

I'm afraid that I was not impressed.

Pretty pictures and an "arty" film, but nothing much happens in any sort of way for the full the full length of the film and you are left coming out thinking "what was that all about?".

If you like pictures of rural scenery and are put off by action or complicated plot you will love this film.

A film to take you back in time...
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Three generations of a Suffolk farming come together
jbashfield22 November 2004
When this film came out in 1974, it was unique for two reasons. Firstly, most of the cast were not professional actors/actresses and secondly, the film was screened on London Weekend television at the same time it was shown in the cinemas. Back in 1974 the film, although considered innovative, was regarded more for being unusual than for being a 'classic piece of work'. Following its re-release on DVD, Akenfield has withstood the test of time better than most films of its generation and has now become a piece of East Anglian history in its own right. It has without question captured a snap shot of life in the countryside not just thirty years ago, but in Victorian times as well. Life on a farm in Suffolk has changed so dramatically since the seventies it is unlikely we will ever see anything quite like it again. When first shown in 1974 Akenfield attracted some 14 million viewers, a rating most program makers today can only dream of!
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