This tape has a programme I genuinely don’t remember at all. I can see why I might have recorded it, though – a two part drama called Witchcraft directed by Peter Sasdy, veteran of Hammer.
Is it just me, or do the titles have a Knightmare vibe to them?
It starts off with a scene of a witchfinder hanging a witch, but it’s for a film. The writer of the film is Jamie Matheson, played by Peter McEnery. That’s almost the same name as a Doctor Who writer.
I’m not quite sure of the status of this film. It looks like a fairly high budget affair, but the discussion after the filming of the scene implies that this is some kind of student film at a film school. Matheson, the writer, doesn’t even know why the Witchfinder is hanging his own wife in the story. So he goes to visit his old history professor, Alan Oakfield (played by Alan Howard).
He’s married to Meg (Lisa Harrow) who Matheson has some kind of attraction to.
Oakfield is the expert on the witchfinder portrayed in the film, so he produces some more details about his life. He’s also rather bitter about the relationship he imagines McEnery and Harrow might be having. In general he’s fairly annoying.
McEnery sleeps with a student (or maybe she’s just an actress, I’m still not clear), Georgia Slowe, who is playing the ‘harlot’ in their film. We find she also had an affair with Howard, so Harrow doesn’t like her. Slowe is not above getting some digs in at Harrow either. Basically everyone in this programme is horrible.
Howard is also being needled by the Professor at his university about his research.
After an argument between Oakfield and the Professor, there’s a fire, and Oakfield is burned to death.
McEnery starts to believe that there’s some real evil force at work, and that the witchfinder Oliphant really did have some kind of pact with the devil. He even starts seeing ghostly figures of Oliphant.
But I’m getting so bored with these characters that I’m more interested in the BBC Micros in one of the classrooms.
I’m forever surprised at the amount of gratuitous nudity in these dramas. I mean, I can understand it in cable shows which are practically porn channels anyway (*cough* Game of Thrones) but not in BBC dramas. But this was the early 90s, and this is how it was.
After Howard’s death, McEnery and Harrow do start having an affair, and someone is lurking outside the house watching. There’s also things creeping, and a cupboard full of rats.
The episode ends when they are filming a scene where the witchfinder is burning his own house because of all the witchiness, and McEnery keeps thinking he sees the real witchfinder, and he can’t decide between the two women, and oh God this is quite poor. Why are all these stories about middle aged academics sleeping with lots of women and being angsty. It’s just awful.
Plus, if Alan Howard doesn’t turn up alive in the next episode having faked his death and murdered his academic rival at the same time, I will be very surprised.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 14th December 1992 – 21:00
Before the next episode, there’s the end credits for Bookmark, and a trailer for films at Christmas.
And onto the second and final episode of Witchcraft. Peter McEnery is wandering in the woods when he suddenly encounters a lot of peopl from the English Civil War. No, he’s not fallen through time, it’s members of the Sealed Knot, the historical reenactment society. I was vaguely amused by this because the Sealed Knot have occasionally put on one of their battles in our local park on a Bank Holiday, and (for reasons that have faded with time) the mere mention of the Sealed Knot was a running joke amongst me and my friends.
I feel sorry for Georgia Slowe, playing Judy Lomax, who’s playing ‘the harlot’, spends all her time in the film taking her clothes off for various tenuous reasons.
About the only character in this whole thing who isn’t really annoying me is the actor playing the witchfinder, Clive Wood.
Lisa Harrow is researching in the university library, trying to find out what historical bombshell her husband had found just before he died. She finds it in the writings of the real-life witchfinder, finding that he predicted the ascent of Oliver Cromwell to the head of parliament three years before it happened. But she’s also plagued by ghostly shadows, falling bookcases and swinging lights. And when she’s at her most disturbed, she sees a few rats, and faints. Yes, a woman faints in a drama made in 1992. I used to get annoyed when they did it in Space:1999 but this is twenty years later.
It’s a vaguely interesting conceit to have Clive Wood, still dressed in his Witchfinder costume, banging on the window trying to reach McEnery, who’s convinced he’s being visited by the real Oliphant. This could be a disturbing story about mental illness, but when McEnery goes full manic, and is being possessed by the spirit of Oliphant, it just looks like he’s doing his pelvic floor exercises.
Harrow is told to go to her husband’s grave, to discover that Oliphant was actually his ancestor, and – to nobody’s surprise – Alan Howard is still alive, and living in the crypt.
Now it seems to have lapsed into a revenge drama with the ‘wronged’ husband coming after all the men. He ties Harrow and McEnery to trees, then goes after Judy (Slowe).
Meanwhile, Clive Wood is trying to get back tot he house, having been left at the graveyard, and he flags down a milk float, driven by Andy de la Tour – recently seen in Bottom.
After putting his daughter in the boot of his car, he returns briefly to the two people tied to the trees, slaps Harrow a couple of times, then complains of McEnery “He only got a second class degree!” I think that sums up this whole stupid story.
There’s even an almost car crash between volvo and milk float. I think it’s symptomatic of this programme that not a single milk bottle breaks.
There’s an appearance by Jason Flemyng as an assistant director.
At least we appear to be heading towards an actual climax now, as Howard, dressed as the witchfinder, goes to the set, where they’re preparing to film the hanging of Slowe as the servant/harlot. It’s the first time I’ve felt even a tiny bit of jeopardy.
In the end, after Howard is fought off, stabbed (by his own knife) and falls into a fire, they even manager to contrive a happy ending in their film for the witchfinder, who was simply misunderstood. Just what the world needs, redemption arcs for witchfinders. I call bullshit.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 16th December 1992 – 21:00
After this, there’s a trailer for Crossing Delancey. Then there’s the start of Fifth Column. The tapes ends just as this starts.