Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 70 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 28 October 2013
Cat No: BFIVD997
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Feature-length drama from 1970 originally broadcast as part of the BBC’s ’Play for Today’ TV series. Norah Palmer (Anna Cropper) leaves... Read More
Thirty-something TV script editor Norah (Anna Cropper), reeling from the recent break-up of a relationship, flees London for an isolated cottage outside Evesham. There the locals accept her with the kind of bemused suspicion you might expect from an insular community faced with a metropolitan interloper. She feels the same way about them, although she does take a shine to the enigmatic, naive young gamekeeper, Rob (Andrew Bradford), especially after stumbling on him practising martial arts half naked in the forest.
Unfortunately, the course of Rob and Norah’s tentative liaison goes quickly off-track. But then events conspire to bring about their union anyway. And after falling pregnant, Norah realises that the villagers have had a hand in playing out a fertility ritual.
Only now making its DVD debut, this Play for Today, first transmitted in the run-up to Christmas 1970, was a very influential piece of television, inspiring the one-off supernatural dramas that became a staple of seventies’ broadcasting, not least the BBC’s annual ‘ghost stories for Christmas’ (some of which are now better known, but perhaps less admired, than Robin Redbreast).
In its evocation of the clash of cynical, self-important modernity with the mystical and powerful energy of rustic folklore, the play also prefigures both the imminent Straw Dogs and The Wicker Man in extracting deadly menace from the abandonment of an ‘enlightened’ urbanite in an unforgiving backwater. (And while we’re striking comparisons with contemporary fare, it could also serve as a witty, parochial response to Rosemary’s Baby.)
Better acted and more densely scripted (by John Bowen) than most conventional British horror films of the period, Robin Redbreast requires more than one viewing to fully appreciate. In a role written specially for her, Cropper is excellent, and while the villagers (Bernard Hepton, Freda Bamford, Cyril Cross) might look like Cold Comfort Farm types, their dialogue is resistant to cliché.
If all this suggests Robin Redbreast is more cerebral than supernatural, think again. The horror is buried only shallowly beneath the surface, restless to emerge. And the eerie final shot stays in the memory long after the credits have rolled.