‘Awake Ye Heathens’
Oh to have a time travelling device to wing us all back to various times throughout cinematic history, a prism to expand and experience works within the context, era they were released in. To have the naivety and innocence of walking into a screening of Robin Hardy’s 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man, and to stumble out at the end giddily traumatised, transfixed and spellbound, having never seen anything like it before, nor could we have been prepared for it. We’re definitely not in Reading any more.
Now celebrating it’s 50th anniversary, the film has had a few decades to influence countless generations of film makers, writers, inspire a devout cult following and introduce new fans to one of the greatest and most iconic endings ever created. Thankfully tiktok wasn’t around at the time to start a trend.
Not without it’s issues at the time (new company owners had outright contempt for it, such was their lack of understanding of the fable), in actually making it available for people to see, and in a version that the director/actors wanted seen, this new 4K version that comes in multiple collector editions, which absolutely gives the work the true love and dedication it deserves. In fact, the amount of extras in the various packages is positively and aptly decadent, a truly rich harvest, bequeathed to us by the generous and loving cinema gods of Vintage Classics Collection from StudioCanal.
Stories are often cyclical, with themes from times long before, resonating an even more potent zeitgeist today. As in the case of the original film owners destain for the piece, so too many a entity today showing contempt for the world we live in, with cataclysmic indifference to climate change, and wanton destruction of natural resources. This clash of ideologies, arrive in the form of Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), an orthodox (and frigid) conservative fundamentalist, perpetuating the ‘norm’, willingly oblivious to it suffocating the vibrancy of life itself, instinctively (or more realistically conditioned) barricading itself against the other exuberant celebration of organic (& orgasmic) joy, honesty, empathy and beauty of the Scottish islanders/island owned by Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee).
Carrying its Lord’s name, Summerisle is an idyllic oasis, with its own micro climate that has enabled the cultivation of well renowned variety of apple, nurturing a micro society that lives in absolute synch with nature, and the pagan rituals that once embraced these Celtic isles for thousands of years, that themselves were borne from a reverence of land, sea and sun.
Howie has been anonymously informed of the apparent disappearance of a local child, and has arrived to investigate the whereabouts of the missing girl.
Despite the severity of the case, the exuberant behaviour of the locals is at complete odds with the situation, and in fact gets increasingly bizarre, peculiar as the hours progress, and nuggets of information are slowly unearthed. Much to the increasing frustration of the Sergeant, who’s natural dependency on order, structure and strict tenents of Catholicism is at stark odds, and even psychological conflict with Summerisle, it’s a real communion wafer and Stilton cheese situation.
As the case unfurls, so too the apparent sanity of Howie, as his perception of life, and the concrete he has cemented his beliefs in, are swiftly overgrown and consumed by nature in all its forms, metaphorically, and physically.
Despite it being around for 50 years, there is the chance that many haven’t seen this stunning tale, so to divulge any more, would be a disservice to the natural riches of the island, so we’ll not press on, but implore a venture via this collection.
A truly beautiful, quirky oddity, simultaneously invoking horror, unease and understanding, it is immediately familiar and alien at the same time. With career defining portrayals by Woodward, Lee and also the hypnotically beautiful Brit Ekland, who plays local girl Willow. That’s before even taking into account the superb script by Anthony Shaffer, and the outstanding folk music soundtrack by Paul Giovanni (pay attention to the lyrics), again mesmerising, as it weaves itself into the story, the scenes, and us, as we journey through this epicurean land.
As mentioned, the original owners really didn’t understand the bounty they held, and significantly butchered it in the edit room before general release. This edition provides The Final Cut version, with previously missing scenes added back in, restoring it as close as possible to the version the creators envisioned. Not only that, but the 5 Disc UHD Collector’s Edition has a Santa list of extras, beautiful artwork, music, posters, book, postcards, versions, interviews, documentaries, that would read as long as the review.
The 4 Disc Steelbook doesn’t have the entire shopping list, but it does have absolutely gorgeous original artwork by the extremely talented artist Sophie Bland, basically, so it’s a celebration all round.
The Wicker Man 4K is available via StudioCanal on UHD Collectors Edition, Steelbook Blu-ray, and digital now.