Sunday, 1 September 2013

A Nigel Kneale selection

August has been a busy month, which is why this is my first post for what seems like ages. As well as the fishing and finance project mentioned previously, I'm also working on a paper about the use of human rights law in fishing rights conflicts and, excitingly, I've started working on a new project with Margherita Pieraccini, a law lecturer at the University of Bristol who specialises in nature conservation law. We're going to be looking at the new Marine Conservation Zones (which are a bit like nature reserves in the sea) that are springing up around the UK, and I'm sure I'll be sharing a lot about this on here in the future. I'll write more about all of these projects soon, but for now I wanted to share a short post on something I've been enjoying immensely whenever I need a rest from my hectic work schedule.

As you may be aware if you've read this blog before (or seen my Tumblr or Twitter, or you know, know me in real life), I'm a big fan of mid-century British film and television, and especially enjoy anything with a rural or pastoral element, so I can't resist a bit of folk horror. Unsurprisingly, I love Nigel Kneale, and in case you haven't enjoyed the work of his that's available online, or need a reminder to revisit it, I wanted to share my favourites here - it's amazing what you can get on Youtube these days.

A still from Beasts: Baby, 1976.

1. Probably my favourite Nigel Kneale TV play is The Stone Tape (1972), a BBC film so influential that it has even inspired its own hauntological hypothesis. It's about a group of scientists trying to make an ipod out of a dead Victorian maid, or something like that anyway.

2. Second in my personal hall-of-fame is a 1975 episode of ITV's Against the Crowd series: Murrain. Set somewhere in Yorkshire or North Derbyshire (massive tick from me), it's about a group of farmers who suspect a local woman of witchcraft.

3. Next, another one from 1976, this time from the ITV series Beasts. Simply called Baby, this is about a mother-to-be who finds something curious bricked into the wall of her new country cottage.

4. Now, the most famous film in this list. Kneale was a writer on what was arguably the first film of the British new wave: 1959's Look Back in Anger, a screen adaptation of John Osborne's 1956 play. Although I can never really understand why the ending of the play was changed for this film, it's still wonderful and deserves its historical significance.

5. Number five doesn't strictly belong in this list, as it's not one of my favourite Kneale productions to watch, but it has such an interesting story I couldn't resist including it. It's 1963's The Road.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the BBC had a habit of either not recording or destroying recordings of many of their programmes. For decades, it was thought that reality-TV (and Black Mirror) precursor The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968 - this is definitely in my top five to watch, just for the Hebridean self-sufficiency theme) was lost, until someone rather luckily found a black and white recording in the 1980s. A number of Kneale's BBC plays are still lost to us however, and only exist in the memories of those lucky enough to have seen them on their first broadcast. This includes the Wednesday Plays Wine of India (1970) and Bam! Pow! Zap! (1969), 1971's The Chopper (Out of the Unknown series) and 1955's The Creature

Perhaps the most notable loss of Kneale's work is The Road. This TV play was so powerful that it haunted many that had the good fortune to see it on its original broadcast in 1963. It's easy to see why: the plot is strikingly intelligent and innovative, even set amidst Kneale's other work, which is notable for its striking intelligence and innovation. Set in 1771, The Road tells the story of a small English village haunted by the ghosts of a future nuclear holocaust. Of course, you can't watch The Road online, as (sob) no one can. However, you can watch something: last year, a group of amateur actors and film makers were so desperate to see The Road that they got hold of the script and spent a few months making it, as faithfully as possible, themselves. 

You can watch their ghost-of-a-ghost-story above. In the 21st century, when you can generally get hold of any cultural artefact you want at the push of a button (this blog post being the perfect example of that) it's a testament to Kneale that his work is worthy of so much effort.