released OUT NOW! 1974 | 12 | Blu-ray/dVd Director alan Clarke Cast spencer Banks, John atkinson, Georgine anderson, ron smerczak
Broadcast in the BBC’s regular Play For Today slot, Penda’s Fen is something of an outlier on the CV of Alan Clarke, the working class maverick best known for such ruggedly masculine fare as borstal tale Scum and football hooligan drama The Firm. Centred on a speccy public school boy, it’s a rural rather than urban piece, and discusses high-flown subjects such as Manichean philosophy at considerable length. At no point does anyone starts swinging a pool ball in a sock.
Spencer Banks plays the teenage Stephen, who begins the piece with a seemingly unshakeable belief in the dominance of the English establishment, selfrighteously railing against deviants and subversives, but who gradually goes through a spiritual and sexual awakening. This involves visions of angels, demons and King Penda (last pagan ruler of Britain), as well as conversations with his favourite composer, the late Edward Elgar.
Just the sort of obdurately intellectual drama that the BBC no longer tends to make, at times Penda’s Fen can be frustratingly opaque (Clarke himself apparently confessed that he didn’t fully understand it). But in the brief moments when it takes flight into fantasy it weds poetic dialogue to some memorable imagery: middle-class families calmly queuing up to have their hands chopped off; a gargoyle-like demon squatting on Stephen’s chest as he lies in bed; the boy going up in flames after someone torches a Polaroid. And for fans of Clarke, one of British television’s greatest directors, it’s interesting to see him tackling a very different kind of youthful rebellion.
Extras Mini documentary The Landscape Of Feelings interviews writer David Rudkin, among others; a booklet. Ian Berriman
Can be frustratingly opaque at times
Spencer Banks also starred in ITV’s 1970‑1971 children’s series Timeslip, which is getting a DVD reissue on 27 June.
This new church had an odd way of doing communion.