Robin Hardy – The Wicker Man and Beyond
In 2013, The Wicker Man returned to cinemas across the country to celebrate 40 years since it first launched into a mostly unappreciative world. How things have changed. From beginnings that saw it dumped on the undercard of a double-bill with Don’t Look Now, it’s become an indisputable classic. Take any best British film list and you’ll find it slotted in somewhere. The same applies to horror lists. Heck, you’ll find it nestled away in many best film lists period.
What’s even more remarkable is that The Wicker Man was director/writer Robin Hardy’s feature debut. Since that 1973 release, he’s directed only two more films, one in 1986, followed by a thematic sequel in 2011, The Wicker Tree. He’s clearly picking up the pace, having now commenced work on The Wrath of the Gods, the third in this loose trilogy. It’s this, and the crowdfunding campaign launched via Indiegogo to raise initial research funding for the new project, that finds Robin down the other end of the phone discussing similarities to the previous two films.
He speaks calmly and fluently in a smooth voice. “They’re like each other only in genre. The first two are very much from the point of view of people who are worshipping Gods in a rather extreme way. I really wanted to make a film where the Gods were the dominant part of the plot. That’s what I’ve done here.”
The Wrath of the Gods follows a Californian company launching into a doomed enterprise to create a theme park featuring the Norse saga. The clash this time is between the Californian business folk, and the descendants of the Vikings who still believe in the supernatural. As the blurb on the crowdfunding site promises an ending as shocking as the original, it’s unlikely to work out well for the Californians.
Impeccably polite, he’s also, as you would expect, well-versed in the world that he first revealed to us is 1973. We’re talking about the Norse Gods and the interest they still provoke. Robin ascribes this to familiarity and a certain German composer. “Wagner’s been a great help. Those stories told in The Ring Cycle are authentic. Those connected to the Norse Gods, they tend to be the same Gods the Greeks and Romans had, and the Celts. They had different names, and in some cases different backstories, but people invented a mother god, a father god, a god of crops, all fairly obvious stuff.”
So it’s this familiarity that keeps the Norse Gods in our minds? “Absolutely. We get the names of the days of the week, and the months of the year, and the superstitions and customs we ascribe to Christmas and Easter, and which the Jews and Muslims ascribe to various feasts that are strikingly similar, from these sources.”
I ask about the burst of film activity that led to The Wicker Tree after a 25 year absence, and now this. Did the idea for the new film come about recently? “I have two other occupations: as an artist, and also writing novels. I’ve been working on quite a big novel for a couple of years and my film projects have to fit in with that. The idea [for The Wrath of the Gods] has been there for a number of years, but it’s only really turned itself into a script in the last two.”
Given his varied creative outlets and a successful career in commercials, I wonder if he still considers himself a filmmaker. “I very much do. For the first two and a half decades of my working life, I made my living entirely out of film. Slowly but surely, writing novels became something I was interested in, and painting has always been part of my leisure life. But novels take a long time to write and research, so I’m happy to break up my work life in that way.”
He admits that ideas do cross over between the different forms he operates in, but not always. “I think there’s an overlap. However, in the last 20 years, I’ve been interested more in the real world than the world of mythology. I’m just finishing a novel completely free of mythology.”
If that’s the case, why does he now find himself drawn back into the themes first explored in The Wicker Man? “I think there is so much in religion. If you asked me in the 90’s or late 80’s whether I ever thought religion could become of paramount importance in world affairs, I would have said that’s ridiculous, we’re past that. And suddenly we have religious fanatics all over the Middle East and it’s difficult for most of us to believe people could do the things they do in the name of religion. Religion is obviously a source of good, but its capacity to be a source of utter evil remains very much with us.”
Despite this scepticism towards religion, you won’t find Robin in the opposite corner either. “I don’t think atheism is really a rational belief. There are too many question marks in every direction for someone to deny God. I’m interested in all the different beliefs of Gods and God, and I do believe in science. They’re going to visit Pluto and we don’t have the slightest idea what it looks like. They’ve been on the journey for ten years and we haven’t the slightest idea until our probe gets there. In that sort of vast ignorance, you can’t be an atheist really, because the uncertainty of almost everything beyond what science seems to have proved is endless.”
The deep thought he’s given to questions surrounding religion and religious practice go some way to explaining the enduring success of The Wicker Man, but it’s not a success anyone thought likely at the time. “It never occurred to us that we were making a timeless film. I think a lot of it is because the whole film is out of time and space. It has very little connection with the twentieth century; everything is part of the natural world.”
A question he’s undoubtedly had to answer countless times, Robin doesn’t attribute the film’s classic status to this alone. “I have been involved in so many relaunches of the film, it’s extraordinary. The generation from the 70’s have been seeing it repeated on television, and video, and now DVD and Blu-ray. I also went to a Pagan festival in Croydon of all places three or four years ago. Everyone was dressed in black with silvery metal things in every orifice, and lots of them were extremely young. They came up with books and posters and lots of things to sign and I was puzzled until someone said to me ‘do you realise The Wicker Man is a set text in drama studies?’, rather in the way Pride and Prejudice is for literature. I was simply amazed.”
Next we come to genre; the final pillar that Robin believes has given his film such a long afterlife. “The genre of the film is comparatively unusual. It mixes comedy and mystery and sex and horror, and uses a lot of music and lyrics to drive the plot forward.” Despite this mix, I remark that it’s commonly badged as a horror film. Robin refers to something he plans to post online. “It’s a tribute, really from me to Christopher Lee, in which he makes a very strong argument against it being a horror film. I shall be intrigued to see if people think he makes a convincing argument. I think he does.” Robin doesn’t go quite as far as to remove it from the horror category himself though. “What other genre would you put it in? But I take some pride in the fact that the genre we have created isn’t just appealing to people entirely as horror. It mixes it up with other things in life interesting or entertaining. I think that’s one of the reasons for its continuing popularity.”
For now though, he’s focussed firmly on the new film, and won’t be drawn into revealing grandiose expectations. “I hope it’s going to fulfil my vision of it. I hope we succeed in doing what’s on the page and making it work. I don’t really look beyond that.” Only time will tell if he achieves his aims, but we all know he has it in him.
Flickfeast would like to thank Robin for taking the time to speak to us. The crowdfunding campaign for the research portion of The Wrath of the Gods continues here.