Watched the BBC’s 1962 Elgar drama documentary, directed by the young Ken Russell.
The imagery is beautiful and cinematic – looking as if made with a most un-BBC budget. Unlike more modern drama docs, the actors do not speak and the only voice heard is narrator Huw Wheldon. It’s a very effective way of illustrating one man’s essay, but also makes best use of Elgar’s music.
It mentions Elgar’s Catholicism as an inspiration for his epic and melodic scores, which is kind of ironic since his work is seen as so inherently C-of-E British. But then the lush theatricality of our anthems, crownings and royal ceremonies has always been a bit Anglo-Catholic.
It suddenly occurred to me (no doubt after everybody else) that Anglicans who object to women vicars must, on the same principles, oppose Betty as head of their church.
Elgar himself was uncomfortable with the patriotic claims made of his music. Perhaps the most extraordinary sequence in Russell’s beautiful film is his use of Elgar’s “Pomp and circumstance”. This Boer War marching song is, with someone else’s lyrics, better known as “Land of Hope and Glory”. And Russell juxtaposes the lyric-less original with awful footage from the First World War – men shot as they ascend from the rat-infested trenches, queues of wounded soldiers staggering through the mud. It’s an incredible, provocative sequence, and I could see just why Elgar might have felt angry…
- Screenonline’s page on the Elgar documentary includes a two-minute clip of the “Hope and Glory” sequence.