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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

White Lady by David Rudkin

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Amy: Dad? What’s a parable.

Gil: Parable? A sort of story, with something in it…strange. To help you remember it. And think. About something important.

I first heard about David Rudkin’s White Lady (1987) from Grant Morrison during a conversation about Penda’s Fen, Morrison having been a Rudkin-head as far back as the original screening of that TV film in 1974. This was at a time when you couldn’t call up details of somebody’s entire career in a couple of seconds, so all I knew of Rudkin’s television work aside from Penda’s Fen was Artemis 81 (1981) and his adaptation of The Ash Tree (1975) by MR James, one of the BBC’s Christmas ghost stories.

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Vampyr (1932).

All of those films feature sinister, possibly supernatural events taking place in the English countryside, and this theme is continued in White Lady, a 45-minute drama which Rudkin wrote and also directed. In dramatic terms the film is a minimal piece concerning a divorced father trying to set himself up as a farmer while also taking care of two young daughters. In the fields surrounding the farm pesticides are being used, although we see little direct evidence of this. More overt are the disturbing interjections and animated graphics which show photographs and X-rays of laboratory animals suffering from pesticide exposure. Rudkin’s dialogue tells us at the outset that this is a parable, hence the deadly effects of the pesticide being embodied by the White Lady of the title, a spectral figure who carries a scythe.

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The first time I saw this I thought the scythe was a heavy-handed device, despite its obvious farming connections; watched again I realise that Rudkin would have been alluding (if only for himself) to the scythe-bearing ferryman in Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932), a film Rudkin subjected to very close scrutiny in 2005 for the BFI’s Film Classics series. In his book Rudkin notes a shot in which a sleeping figure is menaced by the shadow of a scythe on a wall; that shot is recapitulated in White Lady.

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It’s unfair to compare this to the eerie, intellectual masterpiece that is Penda’s Fen, but White Lady is still worth a look for anyone interested in Rudkin’s dramas, especially with it being his sole directing credit. If the dire warnings of genetic mutation haven’t come to pass there’s relevance in our present concern about the effects of nicotinoids on bee and bird populations. The White Lady still has plenty of work to do.

White Lady: part one | part two

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Horror Fields
Robin Redbreast by John Bowen
Red Shift by Alan Garner
Children of the Stones
Penda’s Fen by David Rudkin
David Rudkin on Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr

 


 

Posted in {film}, {horror}, {television}.

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2 comments or trackbacks

  1. #1 posted by Nick Hydra

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    you may already be aware of this,,,
    http://ayearinthecountry.co.uk/

  2. #2 posted by John

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    Yes, I linked to it last week which sent me looking to see if White Lady had turned up on YT yet.

    I’ve been told that Penda’s Fen is due out on DVD soon but I’m still waiting for that to be confirmed. We can definitely expect DVD’s of Red Shift and The Changes from the BFI in the next couple of months:

    http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/announcements/bfi-dvd-releases-announced-augustseptember-2014

 


 

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