Inspired by the release of the How I Live Now trailer to look closely at the use of the “rustic” British Isles in cinematic storytelling, it has become apparent that there are numerous films juxtaposing the beauty and serenity of our countryside with the chaos of apocalyptic and/or dystopian themes.
Of course, this goes back a long way in terms of literary history; from the bleak moors of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights to the bright landscape of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the British countryside has been a site for illustrating the contrast of splendid tranquillity and harsh reality. However much escape there seems to be in running off to gallivant in the woods, mayhem isn’t far behind.
The following are all examples that present what shall now be termed “idyllic mayhem” in the movies. In no particular order:
1. Never Let Me Go (2010)
This incredibly distressing film has cinematography to die for. Ahem, suitable then, for a film about government sanctioned murder. The dystopian story begins in a perfect land of boarding school bliss where our heroes are raised, educated and then sent to live on a farm ready to make their ultimate sacrifice. Raised like cattle, even their delightful surroundings cannot deter the encroaching tragedy forever.
2. Children of Men (2006)
Though set the London of 2027, a large chunk of this film takes play in the rural outskirts of Britain’s dilapidated, broken cities. Whilst London’s population is still bombarded with advertisements and the grey sheen of urban living, the countryside beyond is visually beautiful, particularly with its autumnal colours and hues – pertinently reflecting the end of days, and the potential for rebirth. Cuaron’s famous car scene is shocking because it takes place in a wooded valley (apparently) far from civilization; the sudden assault on the heroes is brutal and bloody, and they are utterly helpless to prevent it.
3. 28 Days Later & 28 Weeks Later (2002/2007)
In Danny Boyle’s Brit-Horror classic, even when the characters find safety in an out-of-the-way retreat, their military company brings a new danger even closer to home. The opening scene to the sequel 28 Weeks Later shows viewers a rural cottage suddenly bombarded by rampaging zombies. A location evoking traditional rustic values in a split second gives way to chaos, as Robert Carlyle’s Don abandons his wife to the murderous horde.
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One (2010)
This is the slower entry to a two-part epic finale of the best loved book series ever to grace the big screen. Whilst Part Two was magic-wielding, wand-waving carnage, Part One was all about the journey. Ron, Harry and Hermione are on the run from Voldemort’s army and need to camp out in places covering every square inch of the British countryside (clearly it would have spoiled the magic if they had disapparated anywhere else).
5. Kill List (2011)
Paganistic themes pervade this disturbing British horror film, which though set in Sheffield uses the surrounding South Yorkshire landscape to creepily good effect, particularly in the final sequence where the family’s escape turns ugly.
Escape is not an easy option for us Brits; being island dwellers, there’s only so much space to run to. All the films mentioned illustrate a sense of this claustrophobia – the clones’ captivity in their too-short lives, to the cabin fever that sets in with our wizarding trio. Danger and despair lurk at every turn, even if the horizon is one of scenic splendour.
Do you agree? Which films or TV shows (or Books, of course) have been forgotten here?