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A Concurrent Massacre

About Mostly Inadvertent Offences

Previous Entry A Concurrent Massacre Jan. 7th, 2016 @ 02:53 pm Next Entry

During the English Civil War, in the 1640s, Matthew Hopkins murdered hundreds of women with official sanction from Parliament. His profession was discovering and exterminating witches by methods now infamous. The 1968 film Witchfinder General was based on the life of Hopkins, paying to some extent impressive attention to the the historical circumstances of England at the time but falling short in its conceptions of characters.

Vincent Price as Hopkins intelligently exceeds the screenplay's broad depiction of the man, the actor playing him less as the deceitful opportunist he's written as but as something scarier, a man who sincerely believes in what he's doing. This performance coupled with the screenplay which has him using his position to extort sex from women he might otherwise accuse and torturing people out of personal motivations manages to make him come across as extremely delusional in a rather credible way.

Less interesting is a romance between a Roundhead soldier, Richard (Ian Ogilvy), and the daughter of an Anglican priest, Sara (Hilary Dwyer). Not much is made of the fact that the two are essentially on separate sides of the ideological conflict but it is interesting that these roles and conflicts are portrayed and acknowledged.

Oliver Cromwell himself makes a brief appearance, portrayed by Patrick Wymark, the scene mostly derailed by an unfortunate attempt to replicate with imperfect makeup Cromwell's facial warts. It's difficult to concentrate on much else in the scene as one is struck by how fake the warts look and the idea the filmmakers thought they were a good idea.

The movie deviates quite significantly from history in the climax in order to find a somewhat cheap, satisfying conclusion. The greatness of Price's performance here makes one wish the film had been played slightly less for the cheap seats.

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Date:January 8th, 2016 10:39 am (UTC)
Nice story.

Director Michael reeves asked Price to tone down the camp and play it straight and Price replied, "Young man, I've made hundreds of movies and this is the first time anyone has asked me to modify my performance. How many have you made?"

And Reeves replied. "Two good ones."

Which did the trick. Price took direction and turned in what is arguably his best performance.

I love Witchfinder General for its Englishness- it's sense of time and place, its love of the landscape.
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Date:January 8th, 2016 12:03 pm (UTC)
Hmm, yes, it might be his best performance, one of the best I've seen, at any rate. I've seen quite a few of his films now and, oddly, the other stand out that comes to mind is Son of Sinbad and it's certainly not for the kind of subtlety he employed in Witchfinder General.

it's sense of time and place, its love of the landscape.

Those aspects were nice, I agree. I liked the shots of groups of people silhouetted on the hill at the end, it kind of reminded me of the end of The Seventh Seal.
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