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Director: James MacTaggart
Cast: Anna Cropper, Amanda Walker, Julian Holloway, Andy Bradford
Year: 1970
Length: 77 min
Rating: BBFC: 12
Region: B (2 PAL)
Disks: 1
Label: BFI
Release Date: Oct 28th, 2013


Video codec: NA
Resolution: NA
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Type: B&W


Audio: English: Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles: English

  • Interview with John Bowen {2013, 12 mins): the celebrated writer discusses his career and the origins of Robin Redbreast
  • Around the Village Green {1937, Evelyn Spice and Marion Grierson, 11mins): short film offering insight into the changing economic and social history of village life
  • Illustrated booklet featuring essays and biographies by Vic Pratt, William Fowler, Oliver Wake and Alex Davidson, and full credits


71y+13sjhqL._SL1500_“Play For Today” was a British televisual institution which showcased over 300 programmes throughout its 14 year run. It was renowned for challenging and boundary pushing content and helped to bring talents such as Dennis Potter, Mike Leigh, Jack Rosenthal and Peter McDougall to a wider audience. It originally aired on the BBC and usually comprised of a feature (or almost feature length) production, running anywhere between 45 – 100 mins in duration.

It is the kind of programming that the ‘70s generation remembers particularly well; understandably so, when given the limited amount of choice that was on offer across the diminutive number of channels available in those days. It was the platform which brought us Potter’s infamous Brimstone and Treacle in 1976 (although it didn’t air until almost a decade later), as well as Robin Redbreast, which was one of the earliest installments of the venerable series.

John Bowen’s story brings a suburbanite into what she believes to be an idyllic country life, however, before long she discovers a dark, pagan lifestyle which threatens her very existence. Desperate to escape, she finds the townsfolk have gone to great measures to ensure that she will never truly be free of the ‘old ways’. This precursor to The Wicker Man deals with similar themes of sacrifice and religious ambiguity, centralized around an outsider who unsuspectingly enters a close community who have shielded their ways from the rest of the world for generations.


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The Film

Television script editor Norah Palmer (Anna Cropper) moves to the country following a breakup with her long term partner (not husband, that distinction is vital to the proceedings). She is contemplative and emotionally vulnerable, but steely of determination and determined to assert herself and take charge of her life once again. Not long after she moves in, she is greeted by a local man named Fisher (Bernard Hepton). He declares himself to be a learned man, and local historian and asks Norah if he may search her land for relics. She allows him to do so. Fisher is a peculiar individual; imposing and subtly menacing. His manner is somewhat goading, and this does not go unnoticed. Having hired a local woman, Mrs. Vigo (Freda Bamford) to assist around the house, Norah finds herself at the behest of her new maid, forever backed into a corner as the result of an insatiable tirade of probing and inappropriate questions, of which she takes offense and great umbrage to.

Upon the discovery that there are field mice in the house, it is suggested that Norah gain the assistance of a local boy named Robin (or Rob for short, as he is more commonly known).  The young martial arts enthusiast and bodybuilder (played by professional stuntman Andy Bradford) is an appealing prospect to Norah, whose sexual desire consistently builds. She confides in her visiting friends (who don’t approve of her newly ruralised lifestyle) that she is contemplating having a relationship with him.


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Norah invites Robin over for a date, but before he arrives she notices that her contraceptive device is missing. After initially sending him home early, due to his incessant talk of the SS, about which he speaks of in the manner of a borderline autistic, she is startled by a bird which flies into the house. He then comes to her aide, and they sleep together.

To her horror, Norah falls pregnant and contemplates an abortion. It soon turns out that she has been carefully selected to be part of a horrific pagan ritual. She tries to escape the village but, even when she thinks she is free, obstacles appear and she is drawn right back into it. Fisher and Mrs. Vigo become ever more terrifying as they encroach on Norah’s mind and body. With a sickening third act, Robin Redbreast is a monochrome horror which contains thematic content that belies the pleasant colloquial facade which the surroundings present.


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A black and white presentation of a colour production, Robin Redbreast suffers from the unfortunate blurring which is prevalent within budgetary television productions of the era. The BFI have, however, gone to great lengths to ensure that the picture is as crisp as possible, and have done a sterling job in doing so.

Robin Redbreast is presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio.


The Dolby Digital Mono audio is free of distortion and crackle, which accentuate the restoration work which has been carried out on the visual aspects of the production.


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A fascinating interview with the playwright John Bowen is the key extra feature. In this recent piece, he reveals that a great deal of the narrative within Robin Redbreast was based on personal experiences. It was his house that inspired the basic story. He was the one who had field mice problems. He found a local boy practicing karate in the forest and a peculiar man asked to search around his land when he moved in.

There was also the sinister incident in the ‘60s when a tramp (hobo) was killed in the area, and his blood dragged across the fields to ensure a fruitful harvest. The pagan elements were all based on local superstitions and old beliefs, making the feature itself all the more chilling.

Also included is a short film Around the Village Green, a 1937 documentary which charts the lives of rural England, much like the world into which Norah steps.

What’s fascinating to discover within the extras is that, due to the close approximation of pagan and Christian themes (one of the great sacrifices is set to take place on Easter Sunday), the BBC were originally going to reject the story outright. It was thanks to a forward thinking exec that the programme actually went ahead, becoming one of the standout offerings from the 1970/71 broadcasting year.


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Bottom Line

Robin Redbreast is a damnably chilling affair. Norah is an intriguing character, one who plays against type and smashes taboos with almost every action. From pre-marital sex, to smoking when pregnant, she portrays the anguished femininity of a post hippie fallout. Cropper is remarkable; strong and confident, yet vulnerable and helpless at the same time.

Much in the same way as The Wicker Man is an elaborate game, littered with clues; Robin Redbreast is equally filled with oblique moments of partial exposition. Norah is provided with several sly nods as to what the residents have in store for her, but she misses almost every one. This is one of several magnificent BFI releases for October which explore the darker side of cinema, and is a folk horror which stands proudly alongside the best of its contemporaries.