Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Wicker Man (1973) Film Review
Sergeant Howie, a well-meaning but authoritarian policeman played by Edward Woodward, flies a small but perfectly formed seaplane across the glorious wild land and seascapes of the West of Scotland. The accompanying music is quality too – none of your bog-standard military bagpipes here – the buzzing lilt of the Shetland small pipes accompanies the seaplane’s pretty flight. There are some cracking aerial shots of the Storr on Skye and Plockton as the camera follows the plane’s route. It’s obvious we are seeing the work of an excellent director of photography (in this case, Harry Waxman, already a veteran of more than 60 films at that time) made all the more surprising by the knowledge that the film was made for next to nothing; Christopher Lee, Anthony Shaffer, Robin Hardy and others took no fee believing strongly in the idea.
The pompous Sgt Howie eventually lands his seaplane at the remote Summerisle and immediately harangues the locals with a megaphone about sending a dinghy over to his seaplane to pick him up. They’re not happy about this intrusion on the Island which they consider to be private. However, the Sergeant has a job to do as a wee girl has gone missing, and a complaint about this has reached the Police from an Islander. The good sergeant has been sent to investigate. Howie is received very coldly by the islanders, who all look a bit wobbly in the gene and teeth department. There’s obviously something afoot here but these are no ordinary suspects and he can’t get a handle on the case.
Then, the astounding vision of Christopher Lee pops up and we see another layer of sinisterness unfold. Lee is wild and threatening as the primeval and menacing Lord Summersisle. The look on his face is that of a man with demons riding his brain cells, bareback.
Britt Ekland is pretty gorgeous as a barmaid with back-combed hair and girly clothes while Diane Cilento is the matriarch. This is arguably Cilento’s best film role which may have something to do with the fact that she was married to this film’s writer, Shaffer, but she really does the business.
Howie’s anger, frustration and fear at the way he is being treated by the islanders is palpable and it spills out of the screen on to us. As he learns more about the free-spirited nature of the inhabitants, his Christian sentiments are deeply offended and realises that the Islanders are, in his book, godless pagans. Cleverly, Shaffer never allows the audience to take the Islanders side; Summersisle and co. are far too contrary for us to like them. But we come to care about Howie the dull plod, fighting for the existence of his body and possibly his soul too. Woodward ate up good roles during his career and the depth of his skills shows here. If anything he has been underused by the film business.
The Summerisle inhabitants eventually close in on Howie and the violent but brilliantly executed denouement is now a cinema legend. On watching the film again I am impressed with Woodward’s energies as Howie - the fall guy for failed crops - screams and beseeches God and Christ. But more impressive is the style of the image of the Islanders singing on the cliffs which somehow seems to have that special ingredient of originality. I just seems so unique and right. Lest we forget The Wicker Man again, it is truly a milestone in British cinema.Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006