FULL PLOT (warning, contains spoilers):
The year is 1665. The end of puritanical governance has paved the
way for a tightening of the noose around the necks of England’s poor. The long
years of bloody turmoil have given way to malevolence and malaise, with the division
between the landowners and the peasantry never wider. In a small village the squire
of the manor aims to squash any dissent and asserts his authority in increasingly
barbaric ways. With the local Judge in his pocket, he systematically sees to it that
his erstwhile Civil War foes receive the harshest punishments for the smallest
misdemeanours. Innocent men are flogged in the streets as their families look on, whilst the squire and his cohorts sit back and make merry.
The squire’s hated and violent son (Daniel) attacks a young woman from the village
(Eva) who had rejected his advances. Eva’s father attempts to remonstrate with the
squire, but the squire ridicules him and gets his henchman to brutally beat the man
to within an inch of his life for his “damnable impertinence”.
With Midsummer’s Eve fast approaching, the tradition is that
the young women elect the most beautiful amongst them to become
Midsummer’s Queen. This year Eva’s older sister Leah is chosen. The Queen’s
responsibility is to chose the Midsummer’s King, and for the whole of Midsummer’s
day she must honour him and obey his every command.
When Leah decides to choose Daniel as Midsummer’s King, the whole village is up
in arms and her father desperately tries to talk her out of the ceremony. Leah refuses
and suggests that for the sake of the village it is better to choose Daniel as the King.
Her father pleads again that after her sister’s suffering and that of the whole family,
she shouldn’t go through with the ceremony, but her mind is made up.
On Midsummer’s morn the young women of the village selected as the Queen’s
ladies in waiting perform the Procession of the New King. They lead Daniel along the village boundary,
marking their path with blossom as they go. When they reach the edge of the large
lake, they stop to cleanse, anoint and clothe the King as tradition dictates. The King follows the custom and wades through the lake until he reaches the small
island of hollow rock, then turns back to in order to see the entrance of the Queen.
The Queen curtseys from the shore, and the King swims under the water and into
the small chamber within the rock. Inside it is decorated with makeshift candles and there is wine
and food set out. He starts to eat and drink in preparation for of the arrival of his Queen.
As the sun beats down on the lake, the ladies in waiting slowly and deliberately
prepare the Queen for her duties. The squire urges them to speed up, but they all
smile back to him and carry on the slow process of braiding her hair and clothing her
in her ceremonial robes. Leah looks up toward the sun and with a knowing nod the
ladies in waiting step back, as with cheers from the villagers, she slowly drifts into the water.
Inside the rock, the King is feeling drowsy, which he puts down to the long wait and
the wine. Finding it increasingly difficult to shake off the drowsiness, his eyes start to
wander towards the flickering flames of the candles, until they all begin to extinguish
themselves. In his stupor he realises he must get out, but can barely move. Slowly
and gasping for air, he slides down the side of the cave and struggles to submerge
below the water.
Leah has by now waded over to the rock, and turns back to see the villagers on the
banks cheering and waving to her. Suddenly the cheers turn to screams as the body
of the King breaks the surface, and floats absolutely still on the top of the water.
The squire and his men rush to the floating body of Daniel, and the villagers rush
to retrieve the now apparently hysterical Leah. As the squire’s men try in vain
to frantically shake some life into Daniel’s body, Leah and her ladies in waiting use the distraction to slip
quietly behind the rock to clear the bungs of soft clay, placed there the night before, that had covered the cracks in the rocks and made the cave airtight,
before returning unnoticed to the banks of the lake.
As Daniel’s lifeless body is dragged to the shore, the squire explodes in grief and
then anger, accusing the ladies in waiting of poisoning the ceremonial food. The
squire’s henchman recovers the food and wine from inside the rock. The squire
points towards Leah and her ladies in waiting and says accusingly, “You did this, you
poisoned my son." They protest their innocence. The squire asks Leah to prove her
innocence by eating the food and drinking the wine, but she refuses. He
motions towards his men to hold her arms and so that she can be force fed. She
shrugs them off her arms and picks up some food, and slowly and provocatively
begins to eat the meal, and drink the wine. The squire urges her to eat and drink
more, looking closely, expecting her to suffer a reaction, but she carries on eating.
The judge calls, ”Enough!”, but the squire protests, “They have poisoned my son."
“Enough. Your son has not been poisoned, he has been taken by the will of god."
Leah lifts the wine goblet to acknowledge the squire, and then drinks the wine down.
Her eyes wide with defiance, she wipes her lips and begins to laugh. Slowly her
ladies in waiting start to giggle and laugh until the whole village is in uproar with
laughter. The old whistle carver begins to play a jaunty tune on his newly carved
whistle as the villagers start to dance, still laughing. The squire and his
men pick up the King’s lifeless body and they skulk away to hoots of laughter and
celebration from the villagers.
Georgiah Susette as Leah
Sharon Pendragon as Eva
Ward Symbonsbury as Daniel
Lyla Haymer as Ellen
Gayle Munro as Alison
Peter Wycliffe as Squire Henderson
Mark Brough as the Judge
Alan Eden as Leah’s father
James G Frey as henchman
Enoch McGarry as henchman
John Gimble-Atkins as henchman
Frank E. Allan as the blacksmith
Pearson Townley as the whistle carver
Made in 1974 by Abbeycuss
Directed by Ben Carnet
Written by F.J. Ames
Abbeycuss was formed in 1958. Their initial forays into film were a string of, largely
successful, low budget and formulaic musicals for a long line of the current hip
British teen pop idols. The most financially successful of these being pop sweetheart
Buzz Passion’s vehicle Hop To Our Beat, Daddio! and, Movin’ In The City starring
the king of blue beat skiffle Denton Bleach.
With the beat boom tailing off, the cash rich Abbeycuss jumped on the horror
bandwagon, and throughout the remainder of the 1960s produced a string of
critically lambasted portmanteau horror movies including The Green Trees Of Hell
and A Call To The Asylum.
The early seventies were scarcely more fruitful. The considerable talents of director
Patrick Stroller were wasted on some below par horror flicks (The House That Ate
Quickly and They Went To Ride The Beast).
By 1974, the output of Abbeycuss Films had almost come to a complete halt and
in desperation it persuaded veteran British director Ben Carnet out of retirement,
to take the helm of an adaptation of an F J Ames short story, the folk horror
Budgetary restrictions meant that the film was shot almost entirely on location in
and around the village of Mantonwood, deep in the Devon countryside. Within a
couple of miles of Mantonwood, Bourehouse Manor served as the location of the
squire’s manor, the judge’s house and the local tavern, with the all important lake
scenes being filmed at the nearby Swabmill Lake. The shoot was carried out during
the blazing hot summer of 1973, and Abbeycuss were quietly confident that, with its
strong cast and experienced production crew, the film could be a significant success.
However, the budgetary shortcomings were all too evident when the finished film
was released early in 1974. Critics singled out the picture’s limited selection of
locations as well as some truly awful sound dubbing. The picture sunk without
trace on its UK cinema release. However, it fared much better on the continent.
The overseas success allowed Abbeycuss to bankroll a handful of zero budget sex
comedies over the next few years, notably Country Wives Get At It For England, On
The Way Down and the woeful space travel themed Getting It Up In Space, and
Getting It Up Again In Space.
Abbeycuss finally closed its doors in 1980 as part of the government scheme offering
financial inducements for low-budget independent film companies to be re-deployed
within the growing food hygiene industry.