Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Kenneth Griffith's film Emily Hobhouse: The Englishwoman

I'm not bringing you a contemporary newspaper account of the 1899 meeting to oppose the Boer War that Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch chaired in Liskeard: I'm bringing you a dramatic reconstruction of it.

Kenneth Griffith was an actor and maker of documentaries whose strongly held political views regularly brought him into conflict with television bosses and the broadcasting authorities.

His Independent obituary from 2006 was candid:
He could exasperate colleagues by his cantankerous manner and stout refusal to compromise his artistic and professional integrity, especially when offered work by those whom he called the "priggish cuckoos" of the BBC's middle management. Even those who were kind to him found he would insist on marching to a different drum.
For someone normally seen as on the left, Griffith had a surprising sympathy for the Afrikaners. From it flowed his 1984 documentary Emily Hobhouse: The Englishwoman, which dealt with her humanitarian and political efforts to help the inmates of the concentration camps the British had established in the Boer republics.

This tactic of removing the civil population from areas of conflict so guerrilla forces cannot use it as cover had already been used by Spain in Cuba and were recently used by the Sri Lankan government in Tamil areas of the island.

In Cuba and South Africa at least, the conditions in which these civilians were held were appalling and resulted in many deaths. 

I have chosen the section of Griffiths's film that deals with the Liskeard meeting, but the whole of it is worth watching if you do not know the story. All the parts are played by Griffith or the South African actress Hermien Dommisse.

Six years later, a film called That Englishwoman: An Account of the Life of Emily Hobhouse was made in South Africa, with Veronica Lang in the title role. Lang enjoyed a long but not stellar career in British television.

Emily's father, the Rev. Reginald Hobhouse, was played by Terence Alexander, in the era when he was Charlie Hungerford in Bergcrac. 

You can see a fragment of the film below. 

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