Witchcraft – tape 1389

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.

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5 comments

  1. You are an alternate universe version of Jay Rayner where Jay Rayner reviews films for a living, and I claim my five pounds.

  2. It​ about gratuitous nudity on TV reminds me of the sneering in these parts about the Timberlake- Jackson Superbowl incident.. I help thinking something like that happened during one BBC1 or ITV’s Saturday evening entertainment shows somebody would get fired tor sure. Or the people who go mad on Twitter whenever there an Absolute Cleavage display before 9 pm would go into one.

  3. I don’t mind nudity on TV or films – it’s the cheapest special effect there is – but it seems in these simultaneously lurid and prudish times it’s not on TV as much anymore. There used to be loads from the 1970s to the 1990s, male and female, but now we have to pretend to be past it all and secretly look up bare naked ladies and gentlemen on the internet.

    Reminds me of the bit in Jonathan Coe’s book The Rotter’s Club (think it was in the TV version too) where one of the boys in those pre-VHS days is tremendously excited because there’s a French film on that night with guaranteed nudity, and his parents are out meaning he has the house to himself. Alas, his plans are foiled when there’s a none-more-70s power cut!

    1. My reaction to nudity in TV and film has definitely changed from when I was much younger. It’s partly the reaction of being a parent of younger children, definitely. But also partly the reaction to the nudity almost always being of women.

      But part of me thinks that in this day and age, when you’re only a mouse click away from all the porn you want, there’s almost no need to have it in movies as much. I wonder if that has as much to do with the drop in the amount of nudity on TV these days as a realisation that maybe the constant need to have women undressing might be a little bit sexist.

      But to be fair, I had no issues with the nudity in this when it had a context. There’s a scene in a courtroom where Slowe’s character is taunting the court, and for that, yeah, fine. It’s the one where she’s just having a conversation about unrelated things with McEnery while taking her top off and getting changed that just felt gratuitous. I actually laughed.

      Part of this blog’s point is how things might have changed. And, if I’m honest, how I might have changed too. Because I definitely have.

      But I don’t think I’d have liked this one much back then if I’d watched it. I think this is one of the many tapes in my collection that I recorded but didn’t watch. Either that or it’s incredibly forgettable.

      P.S. I wish I got paid as much as Jay Rayner does. Or, indeed, at all.

      1. Yeah, obviously you don’t want little kids seeing the nudity, though they will eventually, but I would prefer to see it in a film or TV show rather than porn because porn is just too exploitative – I don’t see how you can watch some poor sex-trafficked Eastern European prostitute getting up to all kinds of degradation and not feel guilty, or even sick to the stomach. Whereas an actor or actress has given their consent for us to see them sans clothes, and you would hope they’re not being pressured into something they don’t want to do – most of the time they haven’t been pressured and it’s in a safe environment.

        Also, back in the 1970s and to an extent into the 80s and 90s, there was a sense of liberation to the nudity which you don’t get now. It’s all a bit grubby thanks to the internet. Anyway, I hope I’m not coming across as a nudity obsessive, because after all if it’s not in the films and shows I watch it’s not as if I go away disappointed. I won’t be seeking out Witchcraft, for example!

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