By Our Selves (12A)
by Andrew Kotting
8th & 9th November 2015
During this compelling film about the 19th century country poet John
Clare, which perfectly captures his eccentricity, a 1970 BBC female programme
announcer declares that he "was a minor nature poet who went mad."
This is repeated two or three times again later on, as if to emphasis
Clare was an outsider to a large extent in the Romantic age - a working
class rural-based poet with a history of mental illness. The film explores
his escape from an Essex asylum and a four-day walk to Northamptonshire
in pursuit of his first great love, Mary. A major problem of his aim was
that she had died some years before.
The walk takes place in a modern setting, including the nauseating and
ear-shattering noise of motorway traffic, after he leaves the peace and
tranquility of Epping Forest, an ancient woodland based in south-east
England. The sound of birdsong rapidly disappears....
Clare, impressively played by Toby Jones, the son of noted British actor
Freddie Jones, who also appears in the film, does not utter a word throughout
the eighty minutes. Clare's words are read by Freddie, who himself played
the poet in a 1970 episode of the BBC arts series Omnibus, which is briefly
shown. Jones senior, aged 88, still has the ability to captivate with
Impressively shot by cinematographer Nick Gordon Smith in an amalgam
of black and grey, with occasional snatches of colour, he captures the
intricate details and abstract composition of the leaves, branches and
trees of the forest.
A straw bear, with director Andrew Kotting playing the part, accompanied
Clare on part of his quest. The straw bear - a man clad in straw - is
part of an old Fenland custom to celebrate the beginning of the agricultural
Some view Clare's predicament as a metaphor for change - a folk poet
protesting at agricultural exploitation. The modern landscape is symbolished
by the sight of security cameras attached to trees.
The journey also includes the appearance of folk-revival performers and
musicians in animal masks traversing along roads.
A notable quote by Clare used in the film is "I long for scenes
where man hath never trod." He was a lost soul in an unforgiving
NERVE supports workers struggling for a living wage.