"Into my heart, an air that kills from yon far country blows. What are those Blue Remembered Hills? What spires, what farms are those? That is the land of lost content. I see it shining plain. The happy highways where I went. And cannot come again." - extract from A. E. Housman's 'A Shropshire Lad'.Blue Remembered Hills is a play by Dennis Potter, written for television as part of the BBC's 'Play For Today' series. It follows the success of his 1978 play 'Pennies From Heaven' and differs from it in a number of exciting ways, a significant change for Potter. The studio-based performances, recorded on video, of his previous work are replaced with film shot on location in Dorset. The result is a panoramic, sweeping feel to the film which alternates between moving shots that swoop past the characters and static, countryside-backed scenes. A memorable shot zooms down through the branches of a tree, hugging the trunk as the characters pass below. Excellent stuff.
But the main feature for which Blue Remembered Hills is notable is its depiction of children, seven of them, are all played by adults: Colin Welland (Willie), Michael Elphick (Peter), Robin Ellis (John), John Bird (Raymond), Helen Mirren (Angela), Janine Duvitski (Audrey), and Colin Jeavons(Donald). To begin with, there's something vaguely comical about Collin Welland's chunky frame, clad in grey flannel shorts and a knitted sweater, rolling about making spitfire noises, but after a while it all falls into place. The reminiscing begins: what it was like to be a child without adult supervision. The rosy glow of memory, and it's fun to watch. For a while.
Desperate for a bite of apple, Peter's character wrestles Willie to the ground, kneeling on his chest and spitting in his face. More friends join them, and a hapless squirrel is knocked from a tree with stones and then bludgeoned to death. All change, as a moment later they discuss holding a proper funeral for the poor creature. To say more would spoil the play, but suffice to say that children existing in a state of nature is all Potter needs to produce a gripping, horrifying, yet darkly humorous play, and one that's well worth tracking down on DVD.