Penda's Fen

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Penda's Fen
Penda's Fen.jpg
Home video cover
Directed byAlan Clarke
Written byDavid Rudkin
Produced byDavid Rose
StarringSpencer Banks
CinematographyMichael Williams
Edited byHenry Fowler
Distributed byBBC
Release date
21 March 1974
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Penda's Fen is a British television play, written by David Rudkin and directed by Alan Clarke. It was commissioned by BBC producer David Rose, and first broadcast on 21 March 1974 as part of the corporation's Play for Today anthology series.[1]


Set in the village of Pinvin, near Pershore in Worcestershire, England, against the backdrop of the Malvern Hills, the play is an evocation of conflicting forces within England past and present. These include authority, tradition, hypocrisy, landscape, art, sexuality, and most of all, its mystical, ancient pagan past. All of this comes together in the growing pains of the adolescent Stephen, a vicar's son, whose encounters include angels, Edward Elgar and King Penda himself. The final scene of the play, where the protagonist has an apparitional experience of King Penda and the "mother and father of England", is set on the Malvern Hills.[2][3]


  • Spencer Banks as Stephen
  • Jennie Hesselwood
  • Ian Hogg
  • Georgine Anderson
  • John Atkinson
  • Geoffrey Staines as King Penda


Music from Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius features throughout the play. The 1971 Decca recording by Benjamin Britten with Yvonne Minton as the Angel is used, and the album itself features as a prop. Extracts from Elgar's Introduction and Allegro are also heard.

Original music is by Paddy Kingsland of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, who also electronically manipulated parts of the Britten recording.


Critics have noted that the play stands apart from Clarke's other, more realist output. Clarke himself admitted that he did not fully understand what the story was about.[4] Nonetheless it has gone on to acquire the status of minor classic, to win awards and to be rebroadcast several times by the BBC.

Following the original broadcast, Leonard Buckley wrote in The Times: "Make no mistake. We had a major work of television last night. Rudkin gave us something that had beauty, imagination and depth."[5]

In 2006, Vertigo magazine described Penda's Fen as "One of the great visionary works of English film".[6]

In 2011, Penda's Fen was chosen by Time Out London magazine as one of the 100 best British films. It described the play as a "multi-layered reading of contemporary society and its personal, social, sexual, psychic and metaphysical fault lines. Fusing Elgar's ‘Dream of Gerontius’ with a heightened socialism of vibrantly localist empathy, and pagan belief systems with pre-Norman histories and a seriously committed – and prescient – ecological awareness, ‘Penda's Fen’ is a unique and important statement."[7]

The play was released on limited-edition Blu-ray and DVD in May 2016.[8] In an essay published with the release, Sukhdev Sandhu argues that Penda's Fen "is, long before the term was first used to describe the work of directors such as Todd Haynes and Isaac Julien, a queer film". According to Sandhu, the play presents Stephen's discovery of his homosexuality as "a gateway drug to a new enlightenment" that "inspires heterodoxy".[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Banks-Smith, Nancy (22 March 1974). "Penda's Fen". The Guardian.
  2. ^ David Rudkin: Sacred Disobedience: An Expository Study of His Drama 1959-96 by David Ian Rabey, Oxford, Routledge, 1998 ISBN 90-5702-126-9
  3. ^ Rolinson, D. Alan Clarke Manchester University Press, 2005 ISBN 0-7190-6830-4
  4. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Penda's Fen (1974)". Retrieved 5 September 2012.
  5. ^ Robin Carmody. "Penda's Fen". Archived from the original on 4 September 2012. Retrieved 5 September 2012.
  6. ^ "VERTIGO | Penda's Fen". Retrieved 5 September 2012.
  7. ^ Simmonds, Paul. "100 best British films: The list - Time Out London". Retrieved 5 September 2012.
  8. ^ "Penda's Fen". Amazon UK. 23 May 2016.
  9. ^ Sukhdev, Sandhu (2016), "Penda's Fen", essay in Blu-ray booklet published by the British Film Institute, 23rd May 2016.

External links[edit]