Esther, Annie and George are three people whose lives have reached a crisis point. On the night of October 31st, all three find themselves drawn to a clearing in the woods. Secrets are revealed and nothing will ever be the same again as an ancient power emerges from the shadows…
For as long as I’ve been Pagan – and maybe longer – I’ve wanted a Pagan movie. Not a movie about ancient pagans or a movie with Pagan themes – we’ve had them and some have been good. Not a movie about magic and witchcraft – we’ve had those and some have been decent while others have been insulting.
No, I’ve wanted a Pagan movie about us and our deities and our relationships with them and with the natural world. Ever since I first heard about The Spirit of Albion I’ve been hoping this would be that Pagan movie. I followed the production on Facebook and YouTube and yesterday a copy of the DVD arrived in Texas. It took all of about 15 minutes for me to clear out an hour and a half and watch it.
This is the Pagan movie I’ve been waiting for.
The Spirit of Albion began as a project of the Young Adults Workshop of The Archway Theatre in Horley, England. They wanted to do a play based on the music of Damh the Bard. It was performed for three nights in the Summer of 2010 and was so well received that it was brought back (with a mostly different cast) for the Witchfest International gathering in November of that year.
Even before the second presentation, Gary Andrews (who manages the Young Adult Workshop) was making plans for a film version. Filming began on April 30, 2011 – May Eve, Beltane. That’s quite an auspicious date for birthing a creative work.
The Old Ones have not abandoned you.
It is October 31, although none of the characters seem aware of the significance of that date. Esther is slaving away at a corporate job, trying to satisfy her boss’s demands to finish a critical project by morning and to put in an appearance at a party for a key client. Annie is sickened by her job performing animal testing and dulls her pain with drugs and meaningless sex. George has lost a brother in Afghanistan and has just been injured at a peace rally.
All three are hurting. All three ask for help, instinctively, as we all do, not really expecting that anyone will answer.
But someone does answer. Oh, do they answer!
Redvers Russell (Robin Goodfellow) is perhaps the best of the lot – he presents the irreverent, good natured mischievousness associated with Puck (including quoting some of the lines Shakespeare wrote for him). Joanne Marriott’s Morrighan has the look and the attitude you’d expect from a battle goddess and the Goddess of Sovereignty. Ella Sowton was Annie in the first stage production and is clearly comfortable in the role. Joy Tinniswood’s Ceridwen is softer than the angry goddess who pursued Gwion Bach through a shape-shifting chase, but she gets to show her darker face once, and she has an excellent voice.
The Spirit of Albion may have begun as a young adult project, but these are not amateur actors. Only Russell and Seán George (The Horned God) have major film experience, and that’s in small roles you’re unlikely to recognize. But all have stage experience and some have formal training – these are good actors who haven’t gotten “the break” that would make them famous and in demand.
The music, of course, is the music of Damh the Bard. Between his CDs and DruidCast, I tend to assume all Pagans are familiar with Damh’s music, which like most assumptions, isn’t always correct. Damh writes and sings modern Pagan folk songs – if you haven’t heard them, go to YouTube, start with this live version of “Spirit of Albion” and go from there.
Damh only performs three of his songs in the film: “Pagan Ways,” “Spirit of Albion” in a large live setting, and “The Hills They Are Hollow” for the closing credits. The cast sings the rest in traditional stage/film musical fashion: “Samhain Eve,” “Land, Sky and Sea,” “Pipes of Pan,” “Only Human,” “Green and Grey,” “The Cauldron Born,” “Morrighan,” and “Lady of the Silver Wheel.”
I’m not a big musical fan, but this works. The story has been woven around the songs in a way that fits – none of it seems contrived. And the cast can sing – only Seán George’s vocals are weak, and most of them are covered by backup singers.
This is not The Avengers with a nine-figure budget. I’m not sure The Spirit of Albion had a six-figure budget. This is most noticeable in the night scenes – the DVD has a graininess you don’t usually see in films from the major studios. And the green screen scenes are noticeable – they’re comparable to TV shows of the 1990s. They’re not bad, but they’re not the seamless magic of Hollywood.
But for the most part, the limited budget isn’t a problem. The crew was able to film in many of the sacred sites of modern Paganism: Rollright, Wayland’s Smithy, Glastonbury Tor, Stonehenge and others. They filmed some scenes in London “guerilla style” (i.e. – without expensive permits). The costumes are amazing – they’re simple and elegant and beautiful… and I know someone who’s going to be in costume lust for Morrighan’s feathered cloak when she sees it.
Whatever his budget, Gary Andrews didn’t skimp on sound. There was one bit of dialogue that was a little rough, but only one, and the music quality was excellent. The credits say it was “presented in 5.1 surround sound.” I’m not sure what that means other than it sounded very good.
So with all that – good music, good actors, limited budget – how does the movie come together? How good is the story? I’m far from an objective reviewer (I’m the target audience, as are many of you reading this) but I think the story is pretty good.
The Spirit of Albion highlights one of the major problems of our contemporary world: a disconnection from the land, from the spirits of the land, and from our fellow humans. We attempt to fill the empty space with materialism, celebrity worship, and the ageless quest for power, but that doesn’t bring fulfillment. Paganism is in large part a response to these disconnections.
Who are the old gods? Robin says “we’re not demons or spirits, we’re the originals, the first ones, the pagan gods.” Arianrhod says they were “created by man in his own image.” They aren’t all-powerful – they just do the jobs our ancestors said they did. And they watch… and respond. The film doesn’t get into very deep theology.
What is emphasized – over and over again – is that “it’s up to you.” The old gods inject themselves into our lives, but when that experience is over we have to go back to the mundane world. We have to go back to work. The problems that were there yesterday are still there today. Maybe we can’t fix them, but we can make them better – and in doing so we can build lives that are meaningful, helpful, loving and most of all, connected. For all of its supernatural elements, The Spirit of Albion has a very down to earth message.
Is The Spirit of Albion perfect? No. But there were numerous scenes that had me choked up, seeing my beliefs portrayed as real and seeing the screen filled with gods and goddesses I have met in myth, in meditation and in ritual.
This is the Pagan movie I’ve been waiting for.
Call to us, and we will find you.