The Countryside in Motion Pictures

Us countryside folks rarely get much of a look-in when it comes to representation in the movies.

Similar to the much maligned Southern States of America, the UK’s countryside and those residing there are often given short shrift when it comes to how they’re portrayed on the big screen.

‘Cornish people as violent, xenophobic psychopaths’ in Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971)

Not many movies get made by people from the countryside, as a result cinema-goers are often given a very skewed, biased depiction of what living in the countryside is like.

Cultural cliches are often used as shorthand by lazy movie makers who find it easier to lean heavily on worn stereotypes than attempt to present a three-dimensional portrayal of characters from the Westcountry. The tweed-wearing farmer, half cut on cider and with an incomprehensible accent is one of the most commonly used archetypes in movies and television – it’s surprising that film-makers are allowed to get away with this still, considering the focus the media has on politically correct representations of certain groups.

‘A rather darker, cynical edge is given to the locals who are revealed to be a part of a sinister cult,’ in Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz (2006)

Take the popular, long-running murder mystery series, Midsomer Murders. Whilst the show is technically is set in the fictional county of Midsomer, the writers draw heavily from tired countryside cliches to depict a version of the English countryside that is both misleading and offensive. Local characters are repeatedly portrayed as being slow or dimwitted, especially when being interviewed by the well-spoken hero, Inspector Barnaby.

Midsomer Murders’ unique draw as a mystery show is the juxtaposition of the idyllic countryside with gruesome murders, an idea that is used once more for comic effect in Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz. Although arguably deeper than Murders ever was, the director still gets a lot of comic mileage out of exaggerating rural accents and depicting country folk as unintelligent. This time, however, a rather darker, cynical edge is given to the locals who are revealed to be a part of a sinister cult. Though comic and (arguably) well-meaning, Wright’s picture did not do the image of rural England any favours.

Similarly, Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs is notorious for having depicted Cornish people as violent, xenophobic psychopaths. Dustin Hoffman’s turn as an American mathematician who is forced to embrace his violent side was well-received at the time, however it remains today as a film that depicts rural folk as uneducated, backwards people. I’d like to say that this kind of profiling and negative stereotyping is a thing of the past, however even films released this year, such as The Bad Education Movie, have used rural characters for cheap, low-brow laughs.

Thankfully, it’s not all bad news.

Ellie Kendrick in The Levelling (2017), where Somerset is the backdrop for ‘a powerful family-driven story.’

Despite rural locations and people being misrepresented for decades, there have been two films released this year that have made the most of beautiful locations and realistic characterisation.

Hope Dickson Leach’s debut feature, The Levelling, tells the story of a daughter returning home to her Somerset farm in the wake of the 2014 floods that severely affected the agricultural community. This dark film uses the ruined Somerset levels as a moody backdrop for a powerful family-driven story. Similarly, God’s Own Country also makes use of rural England’s stunning scenery whilst telling a story of gay lovers who meet through their agricultural work, which already has critics drawing comparisons to Brokeback Mountain.

The Levelling is available on-demand and to buy now. God’s Own Country will get it’s home release on 29th January 2018.