Christian Marnham is neither one of the most known of British directors nor one of the most prolific, having only one full feature and a few shorts to his name. The aim of the BFI’s Flipside label, however, is to find obscure and unusual British films and bring them back to public attention; their latest Blu-ray/DVD release gives us a new high quality edition of The Orchard End Murder, his fifty-minute ‘long short feature’ which acted as a cinema programme filler in 1981, as well as a 25-minute documentary short, The Showman.
The Orchard End Murder begins with young Pauline (Hyde) bored of watching her new boyfriend play cricket in a Kent countryside village (we can’t blame her). She wanders off to explore and meets an oddly welcoming stationmaster (Wallis) with a gnome-like hunch, beard and hat, as well as his brutish, half-witted friend (Mantle). It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Pauline gets herself murdered very early on in the film, and the focus then shifts onto this strange duo as they try to cover up what’s occurred.
The first thing to say about The Orchard End Murder is that it’s a strange, strange movie, willing to take completely unexpected turns at any moment. You think you have a handle on its idyllically dull portrayal of village life, complete with lengthy small talk, and then suddenly someone slams a live rabbit into a fruitcake before ripping its innards out. And that’s just the first ten minutes.
Indeed, there are many odd decisions in this film’s story, and not all in a good way. Some scenes make little sense, such as the men’s decision to bury the body a few metres away from where the police are currently standing, and the way that the story ends couldn’t feel more forced. Nevertheless, it has an odd charm about it and never feels boring, perhaps due to a combination of just how unpredictable the whole thing is and Peter Jessop’s artful camerawork, which carefully juxtaposes the beautiful country landscapes with the much more sinister.
Also included on this release is The Showman, a short documentary from 1970 following Wally Shufflebottom, one of the last Wild West-style showmen operating in British fairgrounds. Giving in to cultural changes, he’s incorporated stripteasing young ladies into his knife-throwing act; a recording of the show is intercut with an interview with Shufflebottom and his wife.
Notably absent are any interviews with the girls, and Marnham’s camerawork shows off the same uncomfortable predilection with women’s bodies that shows up in The Orchard End Murder’s more lurid scenes. On the other hand, Marnham’s interest in the Shufflebottoms’ lives and backstories gives us a fascinating insight into a very particular nook of British history.
Special Features: Interviews / Illustrated Booklet
THE ORCHARD END MURDER / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: CHRISTIAN MARNHAM / STARRING: BILL WALLIS, CLIVE MANTLE, TRACY HYDE / RELEASE DATE: JULY 24TH