PENDA’s fen

Eng­land’s Dream­ing

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Reviews -

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.

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