Friday, October 28, 2011

The fragile magic of A Canterbury Tale

Xan Brooks had a good piece in the Guardian recently discussing the Powell and Pressburger film A Canterbury Tale. He brings out perfectly the fragile magic of the film and the way that those of us who love it feel faintly embarrassed by that love.

Brooks was introduced to the film by his father:
He warned me that while he liked it, most people did not. It was too flawed, too rum, it didn't hang together.
And he goes on to say:
A Canterbury Tale may be the most loving and tender film about England ever made. It's a picture that's steeped in nature, in thrall to myth and history; a re-affirmation of the English character, customs and countryside from a time when many viewers may have wondered whether this underpinning had been kicked clean away. 
But the film's genius lies in the way it connects these big, sweeping themes to the intimate, the eccentric and the everyday. It's the human details that give it life, and the film is always beautifully played – particularly by Eric Portman as the rigid local magistrate and Dennis Price as a hard-bitten soldier who refuses to name the thing he loves.
Well, you can't get more English than refusing to name the thing you love. But while Portman's performance, as so often, is wonderful, his character is a gentleman Puck as well as a rigid magistrate.

I once discussed A Canterbury Tale with David Boyle during a Lib Dem conference in Brighton as we walked across town to a party at Harriet Smith's flat in Hove. I said that I supposed that its concern with Englishness and tradition made it a Tory film.

David replied - surely rightly - that this is to concede far too much to Conservatism. Liberals can embrace these themes too.

1 comment:

James Russell said...

Fascinating post, thanks. You're right that a concern for Englishness and tradition doesn't make you a Tory - the charity Common Ground have been campaigning for a liberal, inclusive vision of England in Particular for 20 years. And, yes, A Canterbury Tale is a wonderful film - eccentric, funny and profound.