thu 30/05/2024

DVD: Penda’s Fen | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Penda’s Fen

DVD: Penda’s Fen

Major Seventies British television drama unites the politically pointed with fantasy

Stephen Franklin (Spencer Banks) meets the past in 'Penda's Fen'

Penda’s Fen has so many constituent parts it could burst its seams. Almost-18 schoolboy Stephen Franklin is struggling with determining the nature of his sexuality. His school is about regimentation and promotes the army with drill, uniforms and expectations that commands are to be followed. With his father, the Reverend Franklin, Stephen has prolonged discussions about the nature of faith.

The local landscape is mystical, and seems able to manifest historic and mythical figures from its own past. Reawakened Paganism is upsetting the Christian present. All this is happening against a backdrop of increasing and dehumanising capitalism.

Any of these elements could be the basis of a drama, but the dreamlike Penda’s Fen brings them all together and unites them with one overarching theme: change. Stephen (Spencer Banks) is changing, the past landscape has changed and society is changing. All this was brought together in 1974 in a stunning BBC Play For Today, written by David Rudkin and directed by Alan Clarke. The latter is known as a social realist (two box sets – Dissent and Disruption – of his television work more identifiably of this nature are issued next week). Rudkin has balanced interpretations of the classics with allegorical original works bordering on science fiction and fantasy. Although the director and writer may seem opposites, there was a shared fascination with the hidden and unaccountable forces which influence the day-to-day. Penda’s Fen fuses these approaches to result in an uncategorisable drama as politically pointed as it is fantastic.

While the arresting, riveting Penda’s Fen is chock-full of unforgettable imagery (Stephen being persecuted at school, his encounters with Edward Elgar and King Penda, a night-time apparition, near-full male nudity and more), it is the narrative thrust which is most striking. The highly-strung, questioning and serious-minded Stephen navigates a world where every step forward reveals new and testing unknowns, culminating in a life-changing revelation. Making the important assumption that its potential audience is as intelligent as the production itself, this is a major – and hugely enjoyable – example of British television and has to be seen.

The home cinema release is issued in both DVD and Blu-ray. The only extra on each is a new 16-minute examination of the drama which includes Rudkin. However, it's slightly confusing as a couple of the contributors are not identified, and the relationship of some to the production is not made clear.

The riveting 'Penda’s Fen' is chock-full of unforgettable imagery


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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