Reviews | Written by Rich Cross 22/11/2022

NIGEL KNEALE: A CENTENARY CELEBRATION

A hundred years after his birth, new books, podcasts and events continue to celebrate the life and work of the acclaimed film and television scriptwriter Nigel Kneale. Now widely acknowledged for creating the Quatermass series (1953-79), The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968), The Stone Tape (1972), the genre anthology Beasts (1976), and his film adaptation of Susan Hills’ The Woman in Black (1989), Kneale enjoyed a long and diverse writing career. Yet it is only in more recent decades that his impact as a writer for the screen, and the extent of his continuing influence, has begun to be fully appreciated.

Following a season of screenings of Kneale’s work at the British Film Institute (BFI) in April, The Quad in Derby played host to a one-day celebration of Kneale’s creativity and imagination. An impressive schedule of sessions began with a discussion of the context and relevance of Kneale’s work by Toby Hadoke, Howard David Ingham and Kneale biographer Andy Murray. The chance to enjoy the rousing closing episode of Quatermass and the Pit was followed by an illuminating discussion of the centrality of location, landscape and place in Kneale’s writing by Ingham, Andrew Screen and Jon Dear.

A screening of Murrain (1975), an unnerving bucolic instalment of the Against the Crowd anthology, showcased what are prominent recurring themes in Kneale’s original work: the clash between superstition and reason, between past and present and between fear and folly. In contrast, a rare presentation of Kneale’s 1965 adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 demonstrated his skills in distilling the complex authorial intention of other writers, and his awareness of the need to reflect contemporary cultural mores. This is an accomplished and assured adaptation, infused with the feeling that this is a production from the 1960s, and one tonally and technically distinct from Kneale’s first version for the BBC made in 1954 which starred Peter Cushing.

A highlight of the day’s events was the live dramatised reading of The Chopper (1971), a lost instalment of the Out of the Unknown series, in which Hadoke took on the part of the mechanic played by Patrick Troughton in the original. He was joined by a talented cast who sold the chilling tale of a mangled motorcycle and its haunting by its angry rider with gusto.

It was also to the organisers’ credit that the day’s panels could include the vivid memories and articulate insights of Jane Merrow (Julia, 1984) and Pauline Moran (the woman in black), alongside the acute analyses of Kneale authors and experts. The packed day was rounded off with an evening screening of The Witches (1966). Although far from his best work, it does show Kneale returning once again to the theme of the power of unreason.

With new books by different panel members on Beasts, Quatermass and The Woman in Black all in the works, the significance of Nigel Kneale's contribution to the history of genre screenwriting will continue to be appraised by enthusiasts who recognise the importance, the cultural resonance and the resilience of his work.

NIGEL KNEALE: A CENTENARY CELEBRATION, part of the Derby Film Festival 2022, took place at The Quad, Derby on 19th November