A curious thing Robin Redbreast… it’s a 1970 television play but it only still existing as a black and white recording and the well spoke diction of some of the cast makes it feel like it’s from an earlier, pre-pop culture explosion era.
Sometimes when unearthing and perusing cult artifacts they can be interesting in terms of their subject matter, their style etc but not necessarily stand up as pieces of work/drama in themselves.
Robin Redbreast wasn’t one such time. It’s a piece of work which still draws you in, entertains, grips and unsettles you.
The story involves a London based television script editor who decides to stay in the country house that her and her partner owned after they separated. Her and her friends are outsiders, visitors to the countryside; city sophisticates, all cocktails and slightly groovy clothing, who consider themselves slightly above the local rural folk.
The main female character becomes pregnant via a local man, although she’s bored by him and his intellect, after a one night stand. There are folkloric/ritualistic shennanigans connected to her pregnancy and coupling, possibly instituted by those local rural folk, possibly as part of a tribute to the land and ensuring it’s fertility (and to a degree in this sesnse the film reminded a touch of Nicholas Roeg’s 2007 kitchen sink/realist style folk horror film Puffball).
Now, if any of that plot sounds slightly familiar, it may be because in terms of it’s themes it’s not all that dissimilar to The Wickerman. It’s easy to assume that Robin Redbreast may have influenced The Wickerman but without talking to that film’s creators that’s hard to know for definite.
It does tread similar pathways but that may have been coincidence or it may be part of the way that similar themes can appear in different people’s work around a particular time in culture, even though they are not directly connected with one another.
Sometimes it’s as though something is in the air and in that sense Robin Redbreast could be seen to be part of a cultural arc that took in folk horror films such as The Wickerman, the esoteric wanderings of folk music at the time and an interrelated interest in the otherly side of the landscape which was expressed in television flickerings which looked at such things, ie Pendas Fen, The Changes and The Owl Service.
It isn’t an especially visual representation of folkloric rites as say The Wickerman is (apart from one brief moment which could almost be a Benjamin Stone photograph or modern day reenactment); it doesn’t have the broad cinematic sweep or cult musical accompaniment of that film but this is a different creature. It’s a more intimiate, enclosed, television play with I expect a relatively small budget, a small cast and a quite limited number of locations but none the worse for it.
It’s intelligent television and well worth a visit. View more here.
As an aside, why did the semi-abstract Play For Today opening titles feel like coming home when I watched them? Are they somehow or other ingrained in my consciousness from a really rather young age?