Named after the last pagan king of England, David Rudkin/ Alan Clarke’s Penda’s Fen (1974) is deep heresy, an extraordinary piece of folk horror, a visionary film that is almost a foundational text in the pantheon of The Old Weird Albion. A clergyman’s son – agonistically, ecstatically – has his personal armour stripped away: parentage, nationality, sexuality, patriotism. He has encounters with an angel, a demon, the ghost of Edward Elgar, the crucified Jesus, and Penda himself. A radical archaeology of Deep England and a praise-song to anarchist transformation, it culminates with the most euphoric revelation in British cinema: “My race is mixed. My sex is mixed. I am woman and man, light with darkness, nothing pure.”
Only recently exhumed after having been out of circulation for forty years, Penda’s Fen has lost none of its power to bewitch and ensorcel. This illustrated talk by Sukhdev Sandhu, editor of The Edge Is Where The Centre Is, a limited-edition art book on the film, will explore its topographies and febrile contexts – experimental public broadcasting, avant-garde arcadias, the rural uncanny, a mid-70s Britain that teetered on the brink of civil war, the rise of eldritch England.
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