Close Up

26 June 2016: Adaptations: Penda's Fen

To celebrate David Rudkin's 80th birthday, Gareth Evans will present one of the masterworks of British television drama, Alan Clarke's Penda's Fen, fuelled by an imaginative response to Penda, the last pagan king of England.

Penda's Fen
Alan Clarke
1974 | 90 min | Colour | 16mm
Introduced by Gareth Evans

This remarkable feature length television film – commissioned for the legendary 1970s Play for Today single drama series – is often described as a step "off piste" for its acclaimed director Alan Clarke. That’s a misleading reading, however. The work’s qualities of resistance, questioning and personal and public transformation are entirely in keeping with the normally urban-centric filmmaker’s milieu. But the real credit lies with its writer David Rudkin. An astonishing playwright with a visionary reach and a genuine sense of "deep England" and its radical potential, Rudkin here crafts a multi-layered reading of contemporary society and its personal, social, sexual, psychic and metaphysical fault lines. Fusing Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius with a heightened socialism of vibrantly localist empathy, and pagan belief systems with pre-Norman histories and a seriously committed – and prescient – ecological awareness, Penda’s Fen is a unique and important work of art, one that has profoundly influenced all who have seen it.