British Bleakism returns to form

For the love of God: BRING BACK THE SUN !I still think when Michael Reeves made The Conqueror Worm / Witchfinder General, in 1968, he didn’t singularly create British Bleakism, but he compacted all the dour elements that the British do so well in cinema.

Granted there are the kitchen sink dramas of the Free Cinema graduates as well as the emotionally grungy works by documentarians and indie filmmakers with a bent on improv and raw emotions, but in terms of delivering misery within a recognizable genre, Reeves did it exceptionally well in his period horror film. People scream in agony, they die horribly, families are torn apart, and a seething anger or acidic self-loathing affect a group of characters who ultimately lose their minds in the end, with nary a happy ray of sunlight beaming from the sky to stop audiences from feeling like walking off a cliff into some crashing waves.

Yes, that’s an exaggeration, but if one has seen Reeves’ Witchfinder General, then one knows how well the Brits have carved out their own brand of dramas about incestuous human misery where no one walks away unscathed. They’re emotionally mean, and they don’t generally wallow in torture porn moments; maybe flashes of, but not for the sake of making people sick and wanting to run from the theatre as a rule.

Author David Peace’s Red Riding series is a fine member of the Bleak school, at least those three novels of the four that were dramatized into a trilogy for Channel 4. It’s a grim production that was broadcast around March of this year, and while the teleplays haven’t made it to home video yet, keep an eye out for them, because they’re worth a peek.

Each episode is given a date stamp, so 1974 was directed by Julian Jarrod (Kinky Books, Cracker), 1980 by James Marsh (Man on Wire), and 1983 by Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie). They’re all good, they all make one want a stiff shot of Fernet Branca to ease the upset, and I’ve reviewed the lot based on the broadcast versions.

Released in tandem with the series is a soundtrack CD from Silva Screen that features decent suites of themes by each teleplay’s composer, and while an appropriately grim album, it’s also bloody good music by relative newcomers Adrian Johnston (Kinky Boots), Dickon Hinchliffe, and veteran Barrington Pheloung (Inspector Morse).

Each composer managers to evoke the period, remain stylistically true to the tone of the other scores, and make listeners feel utterly miserable. One doesn’t have to go as far as having another Fernet, but maybe listening to a happy tune to ease one back into the sunlight helps.

Also uploaded is Angels & Demons, the latest offering from Hans Zimmer and co-composers Atli Orvarsson and Lorne Balfe. The album has some strong moments, but the score has some similarities to a well-known Italian horror score by some iconic prog rockers…



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