In connection with my appearance at the Folk Horror Season at the Irish Film Institute, here’s a piece I wrote on the subject for Sight & Sound at around the time A Field in England came out.
When A Field in England came out I was eager to see it until Ben Wheatley in a promo interview stated that January 1649 was akin to ‘killing God’. It then occurred to me (an agnostic by the way) that someone had made a film set in a period about which they were almost totally ignorant partly due to the best efforts of our educational system, state and politicians. Both sides in the 1640s were passionate Christians, and the arguments made by the army/rump side at the end were all, and I mean literally all without fail, drawn from Biblical sources on the killing of tyrants.
In the eighties Tony Benn tried to co opt 1649 while Margaret Thatcher tried to latch on to 1689, both as the starting point for their own political tendencies. They had the right idea: the seventeenth century is as important to us as the war of independence is to Americans and 1789 to the French. Yet students are kept in total ignorance of it all: so that we as a society have no idea of our origins, what we have stood for, or where all these mores and rules such as free press, habeus corpus and jury trial come from. People literally have no idea who they are historically speaking.
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