The Wicker Tree

Dir: Robin Hardy
Star: Brittania Nicol, Henry Garrett, Honeysuckle Weeks, Graham McTavish

I suppose, if there's one thing to which we should be grateful for the Nicolas Cage remake, it's that it appears to have generated interest in the original. That finally allowed Hardy to get his sequel made, some forty years (and not a few false starts) after the original. However, this feels almost like a pale remake itself. Christian missionaries Beth (Nicol) and Steve (Garrett), who are also celibately-engaged to each other, travel to Scotland to spread the word of Christ, ending up in the rural town of Tressock, which still appears to be a hotbed of pre-Christian religion. There, Steve finds himself being lured away by local sexpot Lolly (Weeks), while Beth is honoured to be offered the role of May Queen, even if local laird Sir Lachlan Morrison (McTavish) is kinda vague on the details of exactly what that entails. But there's a very pretty dress involved, so what can possibly go arong? Of course, if you've seen either version of the original, you'll know where this is heading. There will be songs, both sacred and profane, nudity and deceit, leading up to a big religious festival that doesn't quite go along traditional lines.

As such, this feels largely superfluous: if you put each element of Tree beside its parallel from Man, you can see why that's so. McTavish is much less than Christopher Lee (who was originally cast in the role, but got hurt making another movie and can only cameo here), and Weeks just doesn't have the pure, distilled sexuality of Britt Ekland - though not being dubbed helps her performance overall, which ends up not falling too short. The real problem is with the protagonists: replacing The Equalizer, Edward Woodward, with a country and western singer and her cowboy hick boyfriend is a horrible mis-step. Woodward's policeman was smart, and had to be actively tricked into the patterns of behaviour necessary, his religious convictions being used against hin. Here, Beth and Steve are so dumb, they are literal lambs to the slaughter, and Hardy barely makes any effort to conceal that fact.

That said, this isn't entirely worthless, with some nice stabs of satire at modern culture [Beth's pop promo from before she was "born again" is a hoot, gathering every clich&eacut; of new country music], and there are occasional moments which do capture the same sense of creeping dread and foreboding, which was such an essential element of its predecessor. However, those are more the exception rather the rule, and given almsst anyone who watches this will likely be deeply familiar with the original, it doesn't bring enough to the party to justify its existence. Hardy apparently wants to complete his trilogy of films with The Wrath of the Gods, though at the current pace, it'll come out in 2049, when Hardy will be one hundred and twenty, and will likely feature the mummified corpse of Christopher Lee. On this basis of this entry, can't say I'll be holding my breath for it, though at least this remained 100% bee-free.

[June 2013]

Tree's a crowd
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