Cult Movie: Arcadia a lush and lovely study of a lost world that still haunts our own

Arcadia – there’s a certain magic in how Paul Wright utilises the archive scenes, some familiar some decidedly less so
Ralph McLean

ARCADIA, film-maker Paul Wright's magnificent montage movie about the power of the British countryside and how mankind has interacted with it down the centuries, is a truly beautiful piece of work.

Completed and released to well-deserved acclaim last year, it has recently made its debut on BBC4, which means it's available on the BBC iPlayer. I can't overstate how much you should try and see it.

It's not an easy watch – a weird and woozy filmic love letter to the beauty and horror of nature like this never could be, I suppose – but stick with it and you'll be rewarded many times over.

A sort of tone movie that wallows in warm-fronted nostalgia for a lost England of postwar field workers and enthusiastic pub dancers one minute before lurching into moments of decidedly unnerving Wicker Man folk horror the next, it's a mad journey deep into the damaged psyche of a nation and it's changing rural world.

From fox hunters chasing through fields in gruesome slow motion to images of kids pogoing at punk rock gigs and sniffing glue aimlessly in council alleyways, this is an often creepy peep into a society lost in its past and uncertain of its future.

In the Brexit-blighted world of 2019 its timely mix of little Englander iconography and visions of an insular society where no help is sought from outside and anything foreign is frowned upon constantly makes it sometimes feel like a straight documentary rather than a perfectly formed slice of art-house cinema.

We see cheese rolling in Gloucestershire and wild-haired old eccentrics proudly showing us local customs from dusty archive reels introduced by plummy voiced BBC presenters.

We get black-and-white footage of middle-class men and women cavorting around, without much explanation, in nudist camps and images of hill paintings like the immense Rude Man of Cerne who looms over the Dorset countryside with his manhood standing proud looking like some kind of bizarre mix between fertility symbol and hastily scrawled pub toilet graffiti.

As such madness suggests, it all wafts along like a protracted hallucination – one that's sound tracked blissfully by an original music score from Portishead's Adrian Utley and Goldfrapp's Will Gregory, mind you.

By rights it should be a pretentious mess. That it isn't and actually commands your attention throughout its mind-melting trip is a tribute to Wright's ingenuity.

There's a certain magic in how he utilises the archive scenes, some familiar some decidedly less so, and interweaves his tale with a variety of moods and tensions. There are moments of mild mirth and true weirdness on show here and some of the pagan rites visuals are so effective they leave you feeling a slight chill amid all the madness.

Strange, seductive and quite impossible to stop watching once you start, Arcadia is a lush and lovely study of a lost world that still haunts the corners of our society to this day. View it with an open mind and I promise you won't be disappointed.

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