Review: The Wicker Man - The Final Cut / Cert: 15 / Director: Robin Hardy / Screenplay: Anthony Shaffer / Starring: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento, Ingrid Pitt / Release Date: September 29th
If we agree – and surely we all do? – that Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man is one of greatest British movies of all time, then we also almost certainly agree that the fabled missing ‘original’ cut of the 1973 classic probably qualifies as cinema’s Holy Grail. Extensive archival searches and public appeals for the excised material have drawn a frustrating blank. But fans can take some solace from the recent recovery of an original 35mm print at the Harvard Film Archives which Hardy quickly confirmed was the cut he had put together in 1979 for US release. This version, beautifully restored, is the edit which now enjoys a brief new theatrical lease of life before arriving on DVD and Blu-ray in October. There’s no new footage here and the material already available in the so-called ‘Director’s Cut’ remains absent from this edit, which finally restores the originally intended story order (the film’s events now properly take place across a 72-hour period) and Hardy himself says that this ‘final cut’ “fulfils my vision of what it was intended to convey to the audience.”
And what a vision. The Wicker Man remains an extraordinary piece of filmmaking, the story of staunchly Christian Police Sergeant Neil Howie (Woodward) who travels to a remote Scottish island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. He finds the island inhabited by “bloody heathens” who, under the stewardship of the urbane Lord Summerisle (Lee) carry out flamboyant pagan rituals and acknowledge Christianity only as a comparative religion. Howie’s investigations are met with resistance and obstruction and the longer he stays on the island, the deeper he’s drawn into an elaborate trap which threatens not only his own belief system but also perhaps his very life.
The Wicker Man is a vivid and complex picture, Anthony Shaffer’s elegant script populated by immaculately drawn characters brought to life by lead actors clearly utterly invested in their roles. In Summerisle Lee was finally able to shake off the shackles of the Hammer horror factory and Woodward, wonderfully resolute as the starchy Howie, gives a performance of astonishing depth and intensity. Few who have experienced The Wicker Man can forget its sizzling pent-up eroticism (Britt Ekland‘s incredible night-time seduction dance), the haunting yet joyous folk songs which propel and define the story as much as (if not more than) the actual narrative and, of course, that ending as The Wicker Man effortlessly transforms from a quirky, unsettling and darkly comic thriller into a full-on horror movie.
Horribly treated by distributors at the time of its original release, frustratingly butchered and under-appreciated, The Wicker Man has in the intervening years become properly and rightly recognised as a masterpiece of British cinema. This new and ‘final' cut provides a wonderful opportunity for fans and newcomers alike to at last experience it the way its director always wanted it experienced.
Expected Rating: 10 out of 10