Arcadia

Review by Adam Lee Davies @exrenthell

Directed by

Paul Wright

Starring

N/A

Anticipation.

Any documentary culled from the archives of the BBC and BFI has got to be worth a look, no?

Enjoyment.

As British as Arthur Scargill and Jim Davidson covered in marmalade and chased through Lord’s.

In Retrospect.

Leave or remain, Arcadia is something you can point to as a prime example of why.

Director Paul Wright embarks on an archive-footage odyssey across Britain’s vast cultural landscape.

“It is a country which for centuries has enjoyed a special fame, and there’s nowhere like it on Earth!” Well, quite. These words, plucked from a tweedily patronising ’50s documentary and placed squarely at the beginning of Paul Wright’s fragmentary archive-footage odyssey through the changing relationship between Britons and their landscape, can’t help but engender a mix of emotions in the native breast.

Britain is certainly enjoying a sort of special and unwelcome fame at the moment, but how did it come to this? What part – if any – has the land played in turning this bulldog breed against itself ? How did this cradle of civility, this bastion of eccentricity, become just another country? What hardened the wooden walls of England so? And why did Duncan’s horses turn and eat themselves?

Arcadia journeys from a sleepy post-War Hobbiton of barley wine and hedgerows, through the beads, beards and bushes of ’60s psychedelic folk revival and on to the glue-sniffing Mordor of Punk Britannia in search of clues. It discovers a distant land of kangaroo boxing, water diviners, Mighty Boosh-style thistle masks and a profusion of llamas, cheese rolling loonies, pentagrams and enormous chalk penises. A land where grievances are sorted out the old-fashioned way – with a free-for-all game of outlaw street rugby that descends into something approaching a riot. A land where charm, individuality and community shine through. Would that it were so…

Helped immeasurably by a lysergic soundtrack from Adrian Utley (Portishead) and Will Gregory (Goldfrapp), Arcadia layers its tumbling images to form a portrait of an idiosyncratic nation that hasn’t so much lost its way, but rather fallen out of love with itself. The Sex Pistols told us that there was no future in England’s dreaming, but looking back from where we stand now it doesn’t look so bad. At least we were all in the same strange dream.

Published 22 Jun 2018

Tags: Paul Wright

Anticipation.

Any documentary culled from the archives of the BBC and BFI has got to be worth a look, no?

Enjoyment.

As British as Arthur Scargill and Jim Davidson covered in marmalade and chased through Lord’s.

In Retrospect.

Leave or remain, Arcadia is something you can point to as a prime example of why.

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