I went down to BFI Southbank in that London yesterday with pal Maeve to see Arcadia, the new film from director Paul Wright. We decided to see it on the strength of the trailer—neither of us had heard of Wright before—and we weren’t disappointed.
Constructed from archival footage and produced in collaboration with the environmental charity Common Ground, Arcadia is an exploration of our changing relationship with the English countryside, its beauty and its horror. There is no narration. Ideas, for want of a better word, arrive by juxtaposition of clips from local news, documentaries and films, and are reinforced by a soundtrack of folk songs and original music by Adrian Utley of Portishead and Will Gregory of Goldfrapp that, imo, fucking rips.
It’s not perfect—there’s a limit to the complexity of ideas you can put forth non-verbally and Arcadia for the most part stays firmly in the realm of the aesthetic and of base emotions. Most notably the whole topic of what English identity is (or rather, what it isn’t) is, perhaps understandably, completely sidestepped. It takes the idea of countryside as part of Englishness as an axiom and works from there. For a lot of people that’s going to be a sticking point, but given where I grew up it certainly reflects how I think of Englishness, even as I understand I don’t have a monopoly on it.
(Also, while there are also a lot of scenes of bouncy young naturists of both sexes, there are rather more young women than young men—enough that it didn’t seem a coincidence.)
The trailer does a much better job of conveying what the film is like than I can say in words. Roughly it made me want to both revisit my plan to walk the whole Ridgeway and also to take a load of MDMA and dance in a field at the earliest opportunity. If it excites you like it did me, then I can reassure you that the full film carries the same feeling along for its whole 78 minutes. Recommended.