The five best movies about the peculiar British countryside

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There is nothing quite like the British countryside. It’s a welcome escape from the busyness of the city, where people are perpetually moving, cold grey concrete lines the ground, and trees are replaced by blocks of flats and offices. You only have to visit somewhere like London for a few days to discover that your snot has turned black. Both your body and mind become exhausted from the constant motion, crammed public transport, pavements spilling with people, and the perpetual sound of music, traffic, humans, and god knows what else.

Cities feel transient; there are always businesses coming and going, extravagant buildings being erected, and plans for new developments always in limbo. Thus, there’s a sense of detachment – a separation from the city’s foundations. If you’re lucky enough, you might be able to glimpse relics of a city’s history in between shiny buildings or displayed behind glass cases in a museum. The countryside, however, offers a completely different experience.

Centuries of history are laid out in the cracks of old stone walls, the markings in trees which have stood for decades, and the churchyards displaying locals long deceased, buried deep beneath the soil. While we can witness transience in the countryside, too, such as the births and deaths of animals, the changing colours of leaves, and the growth and harvest of vegetables, these cycles repeat themselves. There’s comfort in this predictability, where death is always followed by new life, and churches, farms, rivers, and grassy expanses remain unchanged for years.

The countryside bears little resemblance to the modern world, where technology is rapidly taking over. It offers respite, a chance to ground ourselves with what is truly important to the experience of being human. Within the peaks between hills and the pebbly outlines of a lake lay countless years of human history, giving birth to folkloric tales and superstitions which have coloured horror and fantasy stories in their wake.

Filmmakers have often turned to the countryside to capture its peculiar nature. Alongside gorgeous flowers, promises of new life and idyllic walking routes, the countryside has also offered a chance for everything from cults to mysterious beings to thrive. Here are five films that capture the British countryside through an unconventional lens, highlighting its natural tendency for eliciting our primal nature, which can cause all sorts of strange goings-on. 

The five best movies about the peculiar British countryside:

5. The Blood on Satan’s Claw (Piers Haggard, 1971)

The folk horror genre couldn’t be more suited to the British countryside if it tried. Before The Wicker Man, an astounding tale of religious insanity and cults, Piers Haggard’s The Blood on Satan’s Claw depicted bizarre events in a supposedly quaint English village. When an odd-shaped skull is found by a farmer, it doesn’t take long for a terrifying Satanic presence to bewitch local teenagers.

Set in the 18th century, the movie features many gorgeous images of rural England – a time when things were radically different from today. Yet these are undercut by scenes of violence, murder, and hysteria, as one girl, Angel, leads the charge with her terrifying rituals.  

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4. Requiem for a Village (David Gladwell, 1975)

A lot has changed since the 18th century, though, and David Gladwell’s experimental film Requiem for a Village highlights the inevitable changes that these natural landscapes are subjected to. Beautiful scenes are marred by slabs of concrete and piles of bricks, covering up memories and burying the past further underground. In this film, which is just over an hour long, Gladwell presents a haunting look at the countryside, attempting to capture its beauty before it is inevitably sacrificed to industrialisation and urbanisation.

One of the most poignant shots in the film (of which there are many) sees people that the protagonist once knew rising from their graves. They don’t look dead, and as stirring music plays, a terrific awareness of our mortality washes over us, with Gladwell reassuring us that memory has the power to resurrect.

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3. Enys Men (Mark Jenkin, 2022)

A similarly experimental look at the countryside’s power to induce memory and blur the lines between fantasy and reality can be found within Enys Men, directed by Mark Jenkin. The largely silent film relies on a carefully crafted score, composed by Jenkin, to create a heightened sense of fear and uncertainty as the unnamed protagonist slowly loses sight of reality while observing a rare flower.

The richness of the 16mm film brings the natural setting – the Cornish coast – to life. The plants feel almost human and dangerous as lichen starts to grow on the woman’s body, merging her with the natural world. Here, we truly don’t know what the countryside is capable of.

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2. Sightseers (Ben Wheatley, 2012)

The countryside can also be the perfect place for our deepest, hidden desires to emerge, away from the watchful eyes of cityfolk and CCTV cameras. In Sightseers by Ben Wheatley, penned by Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, the pair play a couple whose caravan holiday quickly devolves into a killing spree.

While many of us long for countryside holidays to find some peace and quiet, Sightseers proves that you should always be on guard. In one hilarious scene, a murder occurs when a man hounds the couple for not picking up dog poo. When he threatens to report them to the National Trust, Oram’s Chris whacks him over the head, “Report that to the National Trust, mate,” he tells the corpse.

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1. Nuts in May (Mike Leigh, 1976)

Similarly, the fragility of the peace promised by the countryside is seen in Nuts in May by Mike Leigh, released in 1976 as a Play for Today instalment. The film tells the humorous tale of a couple who attempt to take a nice camping holiday, only to find their relationship increasingly on the rocks. We see gorgeous natural locations, like Stair Hole and Corfe Castle, although the beauty of these scenes is inevitably contrasted by the couple’s squabbles and inability to escape the annoyance of other humans.

Leigh, a champion of social realism, uses quintessential British humour, illuminating the fact that, no matter how hard we often try to soak in the countryside’s beauty, sometimes, our natural human inclination to argue and worry about our problems gets in the way.

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