My first encounter with Mark Jenkin’s work was by recommendation from a Cornish friend.  He’d been hand-processing 16mm and Super8 short films in Cornwall for years before I jumped on the fan bandwagon. It was Bronco’s House (2015), which runs at forty-four minutes and walks the precipice between short film and feature, that I first saw. The film absolutely blew me away; its incredibly striking style – shot on a clockwork camera and with post-synched sound – uses the very process of filmmaking to enhance and explicate the dramatic and thematic tensions in the film. From there, two incredibly proactive and passionate producers, Kate Byers and Linn Waite, set about raising both the profile and funds for Jenkin to put into his first feature film, Bait (2019). A runaway success at the Berlinale that year, Bait continued Jenkin’s examination of the socio-economic clashes at play in Bronco’s House, fine tuning them with an even sharper acerbic tongue. It also called for a bigger bandwagon. 

Then came the BAFTAs, Covid and Cannes. Jenkin’s journey has been unlike any other, but, after several years of pandemic-induced isolation, he has returned with another incredibly striking feature that uses temporal distortion and environmental histrionics to tell the folkloric tale of a Volunteer (Mary Woodvine) on a remote island, observing nature, confronting her temporal selves and establishing a steady routine that might just be the blueprint for the survival of human community and society at large. 

Though Jenkin has worked with colour previously, on some of his short films – Dear Marianne (2015), The Road to Zennor (An Ode to Ektachrome, 2016), Vertical Shapes in a Horizontal Landscape (2018) and others – Enys Men (pronounced Ennis Main and meaning ‘Stone Island’ in Cornish) feels both more grounded and otherworldly owing, in part, to Jenkin’s use of bold colours. Like a spring bursting through the gravelly black and white winter damp of Bronco’s House and Bait, Enys Men employs 1970s folk and even occasionally schlock horror genre tropes with aplomb. 

Watching any of Jenkin’s films for the first time feels like being splashed by a tempestuous sea; salty and stirring. Subsequent viewings feel more like swimming out to sea. The thematic and aesthetic entanglement treads like so much seaweed. I’m lucky enough, living in Bristol in the South West of England, that our paths have crossed many times, meaning that every conversation we have feels like a continuation of the one before, ebbing and flowing with ease. The following is an edited transcript of our most recent catch up, which only serves to confirm, even after awards and international acclaim, that the incredibly talented Jenkin remains as unpretentious and earnest as ever – salt or stone of the earth, some might say.

– TJ

Enys Men

I was reading about the book that she reads in Enys Men, The Blueprint for Survival, and I haven’t read the book so I haven’t quite got that reference, but I understand it’s about living in small, deindustrialised communities for your moral and environmental health, and business and social cohesion. And I wondered if reading the book, if putting the book in the film – you focus on it a few times so we get a sense of how important that is – is it something that you read just before you were making the film or is it a book that you’ve always had in your mind? 

No, I’d never heard of it, and I needed a prop book. I needed an activity for her to be doing that separated her from doing something that relied on the generator being on, which was talking on the radio or being downstairs in the house, and once the generator was off, she’d go upstairs and it would become a completely – back to a natural world, where it was candlelight. And so, the obvious thing was to have her reading a book, and I didn’t really think about what the book could be. I thought, it could be anything, and I just started thinking, maybe there’s a plot, a nod to another film or something I could have. And because of the way time works in the film, it didn’t necessarily have to be something that had been published by 1973. There’s all sorts of things I was researching, and it was a bit too clever for its own good, what I was trying to do. And, for a long time, it was going to be Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut, 1969) that she was reading, and nodding to that sort of non-linear time slip. And then, I just thought, I’m going to look up what was published in 1973 or 1972 and that book came up, and I thought, that’s really interesting, and I got hold of a copy of it, and it’s really superficial, but I just loved the cover of it. 

First off, that’s a really bold bit of design, that will look great, which is a lot of my starting point when I’m thinking about the film. Then it just was interesting because it’s basically a collection of papers. So, you’re right, there is that thematically, that runs all the way through it. It’s all different points of view, but all coalescing around this idea that basically we’ve got to pay attention to what we’re doing, the way we’re living and the impact that has on the environment, and the idea of bringing in the word ‘survival’, which is quite an alarming word to bring in. It’s not about making our life better or being more responsible so that our standard of life is maintained, it’s actually maintaining that if we’re going to survive on this lump of rock that’s falling through a vacuum, we need to have a plan. 

I’ve never read it cover to cover, I’ve probably read it all, but I’ve dipped in and out of it. It was just the idea – I’m probably romanticising a time when I wasn’t around – but just the idea that Penguin put out his book of ideas, of the great minds, of that point, of how we move forward, must have been quite exciting at the time. And I am romanticising it because probably nobody read it outside of that, but the idea that there was going to be a plan. Before we noticed that things were changing, there was going to be a plan to make our future safe. And the contemporary context being that we’ve really learnt nothing. 

This is what always surprises me, is how contemporary ideas from that era are and how therefore disappointing it is that we’ve learnt so little. That’s also what I think is interesting with this film, in that it’s not set now. When she’s writing you think, “Oh, it’s 1973,” but it could also just be today. 

Yeah, the survival, a blueprint for survival for the average working person, is how the fuck am I going to pay the energy bill? Where am I going to live? How am I going to pay the rent? The fact that the sea level is creeping up, and sub-Saharan Africa is going to fry and mainland Europe fried this summer, and us, relatively, is such an abstract concept when you’re trying to put food on the table for the kids, and the old cliché, choosing between heating and eating. So, the real problem is: what do we do? How do people engage and make change? I don’t know how that happens, because we’re in a state of having to live minute by minute. And although the climate catastrophe gets closer and closer, it’s quite an abstract concept. 

So yeah, you look at that book and think, nothing’s changed, and actually everything’s changed, because we’re constantly talking about this issue, which wasn’t being discussed in 1973. It needed something like a book like that to even have the academics discussing it. 

I had this real sense in watching the film, about the little things, and the way that you focus on the daily movements of her life, the repetition and the things – like recording and field work, the idea of checking on the environment and watching it closely, which relates to so many things like climate change – are we aware and are we looking at the environment around us or are we just destroying it? And the way in which you had such a beautiful juxtaposition between the natural world and the structures or man-made things that have been put in it- things that are rusting on the cliff’s edge, bits of broken wood that is decaying, the hidden train track that she uncovers or the rail to go to the mines – remnants of things we put into the landscape and the mines – the concept of pulling things out of the earth, while she is putting a rock back into the earth every day. The way that we relate to the natural and unnatural world, and how the repetition and everyday nature of it relates to the much wider things of everything that is going on in the world and everything that is around us right now. 

While it’s the same themes that come up in your work time and time again, I also think it’s quite different. Tonally, it’s quite different from Bait, but also visually it’s quite different from both Bait and Bronco’s House, obviously because first of all it’s in colour and the sound quality is different in the mix that you’ve done, it has a quite different look and feel – and in fact it reminded me a little bit more of some of your shorts – particularly with the lovely red light leak flashes and things like that. What was the approach to the aesthetics? Was it to do with the story or did you just want to do something a bit different with this one or is it because they gave you more money after Bait

With the aesthetics, I think, the aesthetics are always dictated by the screenplay and the equipment I use. The equipment I used is exactly the same. I did use a zoom lens a lot more on this one, I did use the zoom a couple of times on Bait, but I wanted to really get stuck into using the zoom lens on this one. I just love films that have crash zooms and creeping zooms and stuff like that, and it’s so out of fashion. I listened during the lockdown to Roger Deakins’ podcasts, which were a lot about him and James [Purefoy Ellis], his partner, his wife. [They] were holed up in their home in L.A. and not working, but he interviewed and had access to all of his contacts so it’s the most incredible podcast. First of all, he went all through the crew of 1917, talking to all the heads of departments and it’s such an amazing body of podcast. All the cinematographers were always talking about how great things are now and all the digital technology and stuff, and really talking down all the old ways of working, because they’re obviously all in this contemporary space, and a lot of it is about zoom lenses and prime lenses and stuff, and then as soon as they started talking, they all got nostalgic for shooting film. They all got nostalgic for zoom lenses, and things like this. 

I was listening to all of this throughout the development of Enys Men during lockdown, and I thought, yeah, I’m just going to go for it and just shoot the shit out of everything on a zoom lens, like they would have done in the ‘70s. And so I just had real fun with that. So that’s the only real formal change from Bait. Except for the colour neg rather than black and white neg, all the equipment was the same. But I think the reason it maybe looks different is because the screenplay is so different. So, the Bait screenplay really dates from early 2000s, when I wrote the original drafts. Formally it completely changed, because it was going to be a found footage film originally, and then turned into this 16mm thing. The actual sort of storyline and amount of characters and the amount of human interactions kind of stayed the same from the early found footage thing, so it’s got an element of people kind of crashing into each other in a sort of unscripted and improvised way, but then put into this more formal framework. And, you know, people say about Bait: oh, it’s very sparse, and there’s not a lot of dialogue and stuff. But I always disagree and say: there’s loads of dialogue. 

Yeah, I think it’s got quite a lot of dialogue, actually. 

Yeah, it’s maybe because I had to do all of the dialogue in ADR, out of choice. I think, they’re saying there’s no dialogue, and I remember being in here for days doing all of that dialogue recording. Whereas the idea with Enys Men was always that it would be much more – almost like a silent film. And I remember we talked, me and Denzil [Monk, the film’s producer] talked, and we were going to do the whole thing in the Cornish language and we had a big discussion: Should it be in Cornish? Should it be in English? And, in the end, we were like: it doesn’t really matter, cause there’s so little dialogue in it. Maybe it’s an odd statement to put a film that’s hardly got any dialogue in the Cornish language. There’s hardly any realistic human interaction. There’s the one scene between the Volunteer and the Boatman that comes two thirds of the way through the film. Other than that, it’s incredibly sparse in terms of human interaction. 

Enys Men

So, I think that’s maybe why it feels different, and also maybe why it feels like some of my Super8 work is that we shot for 21 days with the full cast and crew and then I went out and probably shot maybe 20% of the final film on my own, just out in the countryside over that summer. It was just me and the camera and really just improvising with the camera in the way that I would making a Super8 film, and the only difference was that it was a 16mm camera rather than a Super8 camera, but it was me getting on a cliff for days on end just filming flowers moving, or filming clouds moving, or filming birds flying and diving and feeding and nesting. All of it was done later in the summer. So, if you look carefully, all the stuff that’s got Mary [Woodvine] in it and the big set pieces, there’s very little wildlife around because we were shooting in March and at the beginning of April. And then, all the detail like the birds – like the larks and the gannets and the gulls – and the heather and all of this kind of stuff was done in the summer, so it’s much more alive. 

So, yeah, I think you’re right, that probably is aesthetically different, and that is because it’s a different script. I don’t consciously try and make it different formally, because I really don’t think about how it’s going to look and sound because that’s already taken care of through the way I work and through the kit that I use. I don’t have to think about it. I know what shots are going to look like because that camera shoots in a very distinctive way. And I know what it’s going to sound like because I post-sync it. The foley might be a little bit off at times and it might be a little bit abstract and it might be unexpected through choice or not being bothered to foley every single thing in detail, so I’ll chuck some other sound over the top of it. So, all of that’s kind of taken care of – all those decisions were made shooting Bronco’s House really, all that was set in place. 

That’s what I’m sort of going through at the moment, because we’re hopefully going to shoot a new film next year, and it’s going to be a slightly bigger film, and we’re trying to work out what elements I take responsibility for, how many heads of department roles I’m going to be able to take on a bigger film, [and] the implications that will then have for how the film looks because I want it to look like the three films that I’ve already made in this way. It’s like deliberately putting up obstacles in front of me in that new film that I can take for granted now because the obstacles are just there in the limitations of the way we work. 

That’s really interesting. I know that you had that manifesto originally [Silent Landscape Dancing Grain 13 manifesto]1, the concept of trying to limit things so that they are in a particular framework. And it’s always a question with any underground or independent filmmaking, when something catches and becomes successful, that then you have the tension of that jump, and whether or not you end up moving into a different style because you’ve got either a bigger crew, or more money coming in. Bait was such an enormous success, from Berlin, and then you must have been travelling with that film for what felt like a year and a half, and the next thing is that you’re going to Cannes, because you’ve caught the attention of everybody with your work. How was and is that as a journey?

It was a strange old journey, going all the way back to Berlin when me and Mary caught the midnight train out of Berlin back to Penzance. Having gone through all of that, we didn’t know quite what had happened, but we knew that things had just changed. There was this buzz around the film; it’s broken out of the sidebar that it was in at Berlin; extra screenings had been put on – nobody could get a ticket, it was selling out straight away – an extra press screening was put on because nobody had been to the first press screening because it was a film that was in Forum, which is kind of a thing that takes care of itself. So, it was a real rollercoaster – no, rollercoaster is the wrong expression, because that sounds like it was sort of up and down – but it just went, stratospheric for me, in that small independent film context – obviously it wasn’t Top Gun 2, but relatively speaking, it was crazy. 

Yeah, and I’d never really travelled before and suddenly I was going in and out of airports like I was just popping down to Penzance train station. It just became second nature to jump on a plane, and almost get off a plane and go, “Right, where am I?” and a car would pick me up. And I was meeting my heroes, and they were treating me like I was on their level, which was really disconcerting. Like my eyes adjusting to the darkness of a smoke sauna in the middle of the forest in Finland and realising I was sat next to Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and we’d been chatting to each other in pitch dark and I realised who it was and just: how did I get here? So, it was very surreal, and then it was surreal again because then it all cut off. 

The cinematic run had sort of wound down – no, it hadn’t actually, we were still on several screens – and then we had the BAFTAs… nominated for Best British Film, which is the thing that always gets forgotten. Even I forget that we were nominated for Best British Film because we won the [Outstanding] Debut BAFTA. Nobody sort of talks about the Best British Film nomination which, in some ways, is like even more incredible considering the scale of the film. So, we had the BAFTAs and then me and Mary went down to the South of France where the British Film Festival in Nîmes did a retrospective of my work. [They] showed a lot of old films and shorts and stuff, which seems incredible, having just been an overnight success, after 20 years, and then a retrospective, it all seemed crazy, but we were already getting a sense then that the world was going to shut down. 

I remember Bobby Allen at MUBI saying to me in a meeting, “Do you realise Bait is such a big deal now that it’ll be there forever? No matter what you do, from now on, nothing will ever remove that.” You know, you’ve sort of broken through in the context of an independent film… then I’d go down to the BFI, and people would come up and chat to me and talk to me and I thought: this is great! And then the next thing we’re in lockdown and when we come out of lockdown we’re wearing face masks, and it was like: Oh god, nobody even recognises me anymore! In the old days, I was a big thing! [laughs] and I think, oh, get your ego in check, you idiot. [laughs] So, not only being back in West Cornwall, which obviously is the centre of the universe, but in terms of the film industry I think: I’m back in West Cornwall. Not only am I here, but I’m not even going out the house. The film that I was going to make next has been pulled, so it was just like, oh, and then, very quickly, we were able to start up again.

We were only delayed by ten months I think, so we shot in March and April 2021, and then a year later, you know, we’re off to Cannes. So, it was even more surreal because of what had happened between the BAFTAs and Cannes. 

Being in Cannes with the film and actually making the film are two opposite ends of the scale. So, I think the BAFTAs and the sort-of show biz thing and the adulation in Cannes [are a] very similar sort of atmosphere thing. I think we all really, really appreciated being in Cannes because of what we’ve been through, which sounds a bit corny. But I genuinely thought: wow, here we are, swimming in the Mediterranean, ten minutes after the film’s just played in Director’s Fortnight, and, you know, we haven’t paid a penny to be here. 

When you said you got to meet lots of your heroes, which must be surreal, I wondered if James Benning is a director you’ve watched? 

James Benning? No, I haven’t. 

Enys Men

Because you focus on her hiking boots a few times… and he makes beautiful films and teaches as well. And when asked what he teaches new film students, he once said that he tells them to go for a hike, and then to think about the shoes that they wore and if they were the right shoes. And then to do it again. And that’s his first lesson in filmmaking. And it really struck me when I saw the close-ups on hiking boots in your film. 

The hiking boots in the film, to me, say so many things: they’re brand new at the start and then they get muddy and dirty and encrusted with things, which very much echoes other themes like the lichen attaching to the flowers and to her physical scar; and natural things overgrowing the other things in the landscape like the mine being hidden and the structures that are there being somehow enveloped by the earth. And with filmmaking, with hiking, and the work the Volunteer is doing, there’s a concept of having the right materials, which seems poignant to me because of the materiality that you work with. It’s extremely tactile and there’s something about the shoes that you wear for walking and the equipment that you use for filmmaking, that actually seems really congruous.  The yellow raincoat, and the red raincoat – which also made me think of Don’t Look Now… 

People, when they’re writing about my films, often point it out, it’s bringing attention to objects, and I think I do love putting objects [in the frame] – and not necessarily inanimate [objects], because the feet are normally moving, or they’ve at least got humans in them. I mean, there are a couple of shots of empty shoes – empty boots – in the film, which for me is a sort of death motif, you know, ‘the boots left empty’, which are in Bronco’s House and in Bait. There’s always empty boots, to signify death. 

The shoot for me is really challenging, which I think it should be for anybody working on a film. You should be challenging yourself; you should be working at the edge of your – not comfort zone, but you should be working at the edge of your sort of physical and mental faculties to imbue everything you’re shooting with that sort of adrenalin and energy. I do think that’s important, certainly to the way I work. So, being able to spin the camera around from an actor or a complicated set-up that relies on a huge amount of verbal communication in order to make something work, and to focus on an object in a shoot is like a moment of pause. Plus, because I’m shooting on these hundred-foot rolls of film, I always have a bit of film at the beginning and a bit at the end that I don’t want to risk using on a setup that’s probably in the script, that’s got a financial implication for it or is logistically complicated. I’ll just spin the camera around and shoot what’s there, so a lot of the objects that happen to be in my films are just props that are nearby that are maybe in the background but I’m just going to grab a little shot of that because that will help me out in the edit. 

Feet are the prime example of that, something that will help me out in the edit. Shots of people walking, shots of feet, starting to walk, walking or stopping will get you out of any tight fix in an edit. And I’ve always done that. I don’t know who told me about that, but just shoot feet, because, if you’ve got a problem with geography in a scene where one character is there and then they’re suddenly there, if you’ve got a shot of the feet, and a reaction shot of something else, you can get people from impossible distances where people are going, “Hold on, that’s a continuity error.” So, I’ve always been in the habit of shooting feet. 

What happened with, certainly with Bait, is that people started talking about, when they were writing about the film, what the different footwear signified. So, you had the Rigger boots of the fisherman, that were sort of like the working feet, and then you had the more sort of dainty, elegant feet of Sandra the second homeowner – the first time you see her is her feet getting out of a range rover – and then you have the trainers, the leisure footwear of the man who’s in all of his Lycra… it was a big conversation about what she would have on her feet, and it was something that we knew we had to get right. There would be lots of shots of feet because I would shoot feet for logistical reasons, as much as anything else. I don’t know if you see the feet of any of the other characters actually, which is weird. I don’t think I shot the Boatman’s feet in close-up, or maybe I did when he puts the fuel cans down on the quay, but they’re not really the focus of the shot. He’s wearing the same boots that he wore in Bait, the same working Rigger boots. I think sometimes things become significant thematically or aesthetically even though they’re in there for a technical or logistical or problem-solving reason, and sometimes I will reverse engineer a bit of meaning into that… But it’s the same with hands. There’s always hands. Hands say so much. 

They do, especially because your films are hand-processed. I’m always struck by the hands as well, and the physical nature of doing things with hands; with the generator and the radio, the kettle – the concept of operating machinery, which is very much like the process of filmmaking.

Yeah. The interesting thing about the hands is that I really cast the hands. So, when we did Bait, all the close-ups of the hands of the protagonist – they’re not his hands. I used another actor’s hands that I preferred. It was Joe, who’s the production designer, who plays the miner at the cottage in Enys Men, it was his hands we used for Ed’s hands in Bait. In Enys Men, it’s not Mary’s hands, it’s my first AD, Calum, his hands. He’s got very beautiful hands and they look a lot like Mary’s hands, and this is incredible – talk about the angels of happenstance shining down – Mary’s got a finger on her left hand, she’s got a tendon that tightens and it sort of closed her finger up. So, in Bait, she’s got a finger like that [gestures a bent finger] and after Bait she had it operated on, to have it straightened, but it straightened to about there [gestures a slightly bent finger]. Her left hand is very distinct. 

Calum, I cast him to do all of the hand stuff for Mary, so all of the writing is him in close-up. About a month before the shoot, he rang me and said, “Oh, just to let you know, I was at football training earlier and I went to catch the football and I’ve totally smashed my little finger, and I’m going to have an operation on it and it’s completely deformed.” And I said, “What hand is it?” and he said, “On the left”, and he sent me a photo of it, and it was bent like that [gestures as before] and his finger’s permanently bent exactly the same as Mary’s. And we went to the shoot and he’s got the same little finger. How did that happen? That was going to be something that we were going to have to hide, Calum’s left hand, because it looked different to Mary’s left hand. But then we made a feature of it, and I put it in deliberately, but nobody will ever notice, because it looks like that’s how she’s holding her finger. But that’s a permanent injury that both of them have got that’s exactly the same.

That’s pretty spooky. 

I think it’s Andrew Kötting who said to me that Iain Sinclair always describes the angels of happenstance [as]: if you leave yourself open to chance and don’t try and control everything when you’re making a film, you’ll be rewarded by coincidence and good luck, which I think, when it’s the absolute carnage of making a film, I do sort of put faith in those things quite often.

Enys Men

I also wanted to ask about, because it’s a film about solitude, the quite striking sequences when you have the, almost like a Greek chorus, of miners, and of women – the bal maidens – these two moments, felt very choral to me, and I wondered if you could say something about the decisions there. It’s quite striking – especially in a cinema – as it’s a quiet film and there are these big moments. 

I wanted to represent the people that would have been on the island at some point and not do it in a way that was realistic so she didn’t sort of wander through a scene and be unobserved. I wanted her to sort of still be the focus of everything but have these groups of people that represented the old community. So, you have the miners, you have the drowned lifeboat crew, you have the May children, you have the bal maidens; and just alluding to the fact that there was a community there and for it to be quite formal, you have these tableaus. The original idea was that they were always going to be static, whenever you saw them, so it would almost look like an old photograph, but then you’d realise that they were actually moving. But then I moved away from that because there were too many opportunities to play with things a little bit. So, when she sees the miners underground, none of them kind of move. And actually, the lifeboat crew don’t move. But the bal maidens are active. I thought the bal maidens were going to be static but, at the end, I liked the idea of this chorus of working women with her there. This wasn’t an industry that was just men: the bal maidens, which means the mine women, were the people who worked above the ground dressing the stone and were as important as the men underground, but aren’t romanticised and remembered in the same way. So, to have them behind her, on her side – instead of her confronting these groups – they were behind her, supporting her, they were her kind of heartbeat and her drive, and the sort of sentient nature of the island comes through them. 

And it’s muddied a little bit because, whereas the other miner lives in the cottage, so there is this passive interaction she has with the other miner, there was going to be more of that. In the christening scene where the preacher is holding the baby, that was going to be in a huge miner’s chapel, down at St Just by Land’s End, and when we originally planned to shoot the film, the version of the film that got pulled because of the pandemic, that was a scene with 200 extras in it. So, the chapel was going to be full and it was going to be a huge song; the hymn was going to be sung by 200 people. It was going to be a huge set piece. And then we couldn’t have any extras so we just had Mary’s character and the preacher, played by her dad [John Woodvine], and it became something much different, much more intimate and, rather than the biggest chapel we could film in, we moved to the smallest chapel, which is just up the road here. 

I like the idea that they’re sort of like a chorus line. Just to put figures back into the landscape, and to sort of see how incongruous they are, really; how incongruous people are in a landscape. All human life on this planet is pretty transient; we’ve been here for such a short time, and probably will be here for not much longer in the grand- lifespan of the planet. I’m not saying it’s going to end tomorrow but the planet will last longer than we’ll last, so you have, as you were saying before, the rusting of the metal and the rotting of the wood, and the growth over the stones and it carries on. There’ll just be these tiny little footprints, and I like the idea of the incongruous nature of the people in the landscape; how weird things like clothing is, and fashion and things like that. It’s so odd that we’ve got time to consider things like that, when the animal world is just second-by-second survival. Whereas we’re dressing, choosing what clothes we wear, and things like that. It’s a very luxurious position to be in, and very incongruous when you put that in an empty landscape. 

And the red jacket is a thing to talk about in terms of Don’t Look Now, 1973. Don’t Look Now’s linked to The Wicker Man, which, obviously, people talk about when they talk about this film, and the red jacket thing was – I think I spoke about this when I spoke to other people – that was not deliberate at all. What happened was that it was going to be the other way around: she was going to have a yellow jacket, and the boatman was going to have the red jacket and she sees the red in the sea, several times, and it looks like blood in the sea, but actually, when she pulls it out, it turns out to be this red jacket, and there’s a sort of relief that it’s not blood, but then her taking it out of the sea then kicks off all of this other stuff. And she was going to wear yellow. I always had this idea in my head that Mary would have long, brown hair, yellow mac, blue jeans. I thought: it’s such a good image, I really love that image. And then I thought: actually, I’ve taken that from Antichrist, Lars von Trier and Charlotte Gainsbourg. That’s what I’m thinking of, I’m thinking of the Charlotte Gainsbourg character out in the woods and that’s the look. Oh, I can’t do that, because people will think I’m ripping off a film that nobody saw. And then Mary ended up having her hair cut in more of a 1970s Jane Fonda kind of thing, that we wanted to do. And so, we swapped the jackets. I said to Mae [Voogd], who was art department and costume, “No, we’ll switch it, so Ed will have the yellow and Mary will have the red jacket.” First day of principle photography, I heard two people going, “The red jacket – that’s a nod to Don’t Look Now” and I was like: Ohhh… I was so worried about people thinking I was ripping off a film that nobody saw and then [to] just walk into the total open goal. But it’s fine, there’s certain nods through all of my work. I would hold my hands up to say that they’re really overt nods, and homages and maybe steals from Nic Roeg, you know, I can’t deny that. But the red jacket one was an accident. [laughs]

I love that.

I always wanted to have red because shooting on film, you never see – I mean, I’m not going to get into an argument about film over digital but – digital just doesn’t do red like film does red. Digital does amazing things but what it doesn’t do well is red. And it doesn’t do green well in my opinion, either. 

Or black.

Oh yeah. I think that’s DCPs just don’t. I was talking to two projectionists at the BFI, at Stephen Street yesterday, and they said – these two old boys who’ve been there forever – “Oh, DCP make everything pastel.” And I thought, that’s a really good way of saying it, just a little milky layer which means you never have true black. 

The striking colours adds to the sense of the natural world taking over and enveloping things.

We had a really interesting thing – the reason we shot in March and April 2021, was because March and April 2020, during the lockdown, Spring came at the end of March – and so, we moved the shoot deliberately. It would have been easier for us to shoot in May and June, but we brought it forward to March and April, and shot during lockdown, which had big implications. We were allowed to do it because we were working, but the restrictions that were in place, really had big implications. But we did it because Spring was going to be early. And that year, it just wasn’t early. It turned up like, six weeks later, which was really interesting with what we’re talking about; themes and predictability of weather and stuff. We were shooting in March and it was absolutely freezing. If we’d shot the year before, everyone would have just been in shorts and t-shirts. 

I was really worried that it looked – we were shooting in March, the end of March when I thought Spring would have come – and it looked like November. But then, when Spring did hit, it came very quickly and I was able to go out with the camera and get all of this effectively second unit stuff to put in there, so it does look like the place is coming alive. And then, where I chose to put certain shots, either side of the first of May within the film, then I think there’s a slight season change. But it was a relief to get that colour on the neg, when I went out to shoot that stuff afterwards, because it was really important. I always thought: if we’re going to do colour, then we’re going to do a hell of a lot of colour. I’m not going to do colour and then mute it all, we’re just going to push it till it really falls to pieces. And I’d looked at BFI Player and I got obsessed with the Jean Rollin films, they’re borderline softcore porn sort of vampire films, it’s kind of amazing they’re on BFI Player, but the way that he shot colour, was just – really pushed it – and I just thought: Yeah, if we’re going to do colour, then we’re going to do a hell of a lot of colour.


  1. Tara Judah, “Encounters with celluloid: Bronco’s House and the film revival”, Sight & Sound, 3 June 2019

About The Author

Tara Judah is an editor at Senses of Cinema and a postgraduate researcher at the University of the West of England, researching the role of independent cinema in the age of on-demand culture.

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