The Bedfords


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Bedfords
"This is less a tale of exploitation than a portrait of isolated individuals still playing a game that long ago lost its meaning."

A microcosmic portrait of the Victorian upper classes as they might have seen themselves - provided they had a sense of humour - Henry Coombes 2009 short is rich on atmosphere and redolent with the sense that something terrible is about to happen, though in fact the horror at which the filmmaker hints could simply be the British Empire in its discreetly bloodthirsty glory. The film is densely packed with familiar vignettes - a frst meeting by the fireplace in a stately home, sexual shenanigans in the library, a hunting trip, a formal meal - yet nothing quite follows the rules. At dinner, an elderly lady's senility expresses itself in bursts of ethusiasm. In the field, two naked, mud-streaked men with antlers bandaged to their heads face off against one another whilst the aristocrats are reduce to mere voyeurs.

Coombes announces his willingness to break with form in the soundtrack, which sets Australian motifs against a backdrop of rural Scotland, inviting us to apply the cinematic language of the unknown, the untamed, to these pleasant green hills. Deliberately overbearing like the countenance of Hugh Ross' duke, it hides a comfortable absurdity, a warmth that stems from the acknowledgement that nothing here should be taken too seriously. Though there are echoes of Peter Greenaway's The Draughtsman's Contract, this is less a tale of exploitation than a portrait of isolated individuals still playing a game that long ago lost its meaning. The Empire retains its relevance as a source of comedy but is losing its bite.

As in all Coombes' films, the set design here is gorgeous, mostly courtesy of Ursula Cleary. A taxidermied bear holding a metal pot into which water drips from a leaky ceiling neatly encapsulates the film's message. The film is rich in detail and lit like an aged Rembrandt, conveying authority by way of obscurity. Anna Robbins' costumes complete the effect, suggesting finery now nearing the end of its useful life. Loose threads here are there, like the elderly lady's wayward hair, speak of genteel disintegration.

A short but potent draft, The Bedfords has the flavour of fine port left standing for too long in sunlight.

Reviewed on: 24 Sep 2017
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A new look at the Scottish highlands as imagined by the Victorian aristocracy.
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Director: Henry Coombes

Starring: Ewan Stewart, Katy Barker, Hugh Ross, Aladair Gray, Anne Lacey, Alastair Wilson

Year: 2009

Runtime: 20 minutes

Country: UK


Glasgow 2010

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