Video: P. J. Harvey’s ‘Let England Shake’

pj-harvey-seamus-murphy-film-tease
Seamus Murphy

The third of the 12 films I made to accompany P. J. Harvey’s album Let England Shake is probably the one I had most sketched out in my head before shooting. The dark, slightly hysterical lilt of the melody made me think of a fairground run by Alfred Hitchcock on a bender. I thought a carousel with riderless horses could work well and filed it away as something to look out for.
 
I was driving the motorway one night and saw a Ferris wheel lit up like a beacon in the distance. I was exhausted having spent a frustrating day shooting in Liverpool, so I was pretty reluctant when I took the next exit to investigate. It was a Christmas fair in Chester, and as I walked in… there was my carousel, turning without a customer in sight. The Ferris wheel appears at the end of a later film for the track “On Battleship Hill."
 
Punch and Judy also suggested themselves for this track, suitably dark children's entertainment with overtones of domestic violence. It is seen in England as being so very English, yet its roots can be traced to the 16th-century Italian commedia dell’arte. Mark Poulton of Poulton’s Puppets at Paignton (sounds like something Punch would say) makes the puppets himself and was happy and generous enough to perform off-season.

The fairground scene that opens the music on the film is on Canvey Island in Essex, shot on a bright freezing day in December. Earlier that day I had shot two tankers in shipping collision off Southend. This catastrophe didn't make the front page. the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico did.
 
The film that opens with farmer John Diment of Dorset is one of the seven  films that has someone speaking the first few lines of the song that follows. I wanted these vignettes to be a record of the characters one could meet on travels around England. I also wanted to focus attention on the lyrics themselves, which I think sound strange but poetic and beautiful without the music. Polly researched deeply for this album, delving into books, archives, and reading letters, many from young soldiers who would write and express themselves in very personal ways. She manages to capture this in the songs and I was hoping the lyrics spoken by a nonactor would reinforce that intimacy.