The Living Grave by David Rudkin


Having recently discovered two episodes from the BBC’s long-running Leap in the Dark series (In the Mind’s Eye, and Alan Garner’s To Kill a King), I was hoping the episode written by David Rudkin might turn up eventually. And here it is, posted to YouTube last month. Leap in the Dark, which ran from 1973 to 1980, was unusual for series dealing with the paranormal in the way it combined documentary episodes with fictional ones. The Living Grave (1980) is a skillful blend of both fact and fiction; Rudkin’s website describes it thus:

Based on documentary transcripts: the hypnotist Joe Keaton “regresses” Pauline, a Merseyside nurse, back beyond her birth to an earlier life – she starts to speak as Kitty, a maidservant on 18th century Dartmoor, who is made pregnant and hangs herself. To this day, on Kitty’s unconsecrated grave at a lonely forkroads, flowers are still left by an unknown hand.

I intercut the hypnosis scenes with glimpses of the life and death of Kitty herself as “her” voice was describing them – but with the camera as Kitty’s point of view, and so never seeing her, and using the locations as they are now. This was to avoid the inertia of mere illustration, creating instead a simultaneity of the two time-frames, and a sense of Kitty’s experience still present in the landscape today.

In May this year I wrote a lengthy essay about Rudkin’s dramas (more about that later) so The Living Grave has additional relevance beyond its cult interest. For a half-hour film it’s a more impressive piece than White Lady, a longer original drama that Rudkin wrote and also directed in 1987. Where White Lady is surprisingly inert, The Living Grave features familiar Rudkin touches, especially the voice of the unseen “haunted man” whose words are the closest thing to the speech in the stage plays. After spending some time tracing Rudkin’s recurrent use of sacred monuments, whether churches or stone circles, the shots of Dartmoor megaliths were especially notable. In the essay I sketched a comparison between Rudkin and Alan Garner, two writers who share concerns with the way the deep past of the British Isles impresses itself on the present, especially in a rural context. As noted above, Garner wrote an episode of Leap in the Dark, and there’s a further connection here in Lesley Dunlop who plays the hypnotised nurse, Pauline; two years before, Dunlop was Jan in Garner’s excellent TV adaptation of his novel, Red Shift. The hypnotist in The Living Grave is played by Ian Hogg, a friend of Rudkin’s who played Arne in Penda’s Fen, and has appeared in a number of the writer’s other dramas for stage and radio.

Previously on { feuilleton }
In the Mind’s Eye
To Kill a King by Alan Garner
Afore Night Come by David Rudkin
White Lady by David Rudkin
Red Shift by Alan Garner
Penda’s Fen by David Rudkin
David Rudkin on Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr

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