5th June

Sonnets Galore!

In this film from 1950 the slightly sinister and very superior men and women at the ‘Ministry of Culture’ in London decide to send a writer to a remote Scottish island for a year, as a kind of experiment. The idea is to enlighten and improve the lives of the natives by exposing them to contemporary literature. The islanders are not happy about this at all. They have their own bardic tradition, their own songs and poetry, and in Gaelic moreover, the language of Eden, compared with which (according to the village postmistress) ‘the sound of English is as a tractor ploughing a field of stones’.

The civil servants send the writer, a poet, anyway. ‘Well, well, I am not surprised,’ another islander comments. ‘Where else would they put the poor creature but here? If it blows up, only a few sheep and a crofter or two will be the casualties, and nobody in London will notice.’

Roger Livesey, who plays the poet, wears a white polo-neck jersey throughout the film – he never takes it off, and indeed this is one of the reasons he is mistaken for a sheep by the character played by Duncan Macrae after a drunken night at a ceilidh. Nobody can understand a word of his impenetrable poetry, but nevertheless the islanders grow to like him because in other respects he is very practical, and expert at servicing the engines of their fishing boats. He falls in love with a local girl and, abandoning his dreams of literary fame, assists in the sabotage of a touring arts festival organised by the Ministry. This comes to the island in August, which the civil servants refuse to believe is an exceptionally wet month when the midges are at their fiercest. In one amusing scene the literati are driven into the kirk by the midges, and endure a two-hour sermon on the decadence of modern culture. During their ordeal the poet and some accomplices loosen the festival marquee’s guy-ropes and it is blown into the sea. Yet even with such moments the film itself never really takes off, and it is noticeable that despite its title it does not contain a single sonnet.

Reader: Cathy Macdonald
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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