Akenfield is a film made by Peter Hall in 1974, based loosely upon the book Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village by Ronald Blythe
Ronald Blythe
Ronald Blythe is an English writer and editor, best known in his native England for his Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village , a portrait of agricultural life in Suffolk from the turn of the century to the 1960s...

 (1969). It can claim a degree of cult status as a work of rural realism, unusual in relation to East Anglia
East Anglia
East Anglia is a traditional name for a region of eastern England, named after an ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom, the Kingdom of the East Angles. The Angles took their name from their homeland Angeln, in northern Germany. East Anglia initially consisted of Norfolk and Suffolk, but upon the marriage of...

 (which is often misrepresented in the media by 'Mummerset
Mummerset refers to a fictional rustic English county, and more commonly, the English dialect supposedly spoken there. Mummerset is used by actors to represent a stereotypical English West Country accent while not being specific to any actual county....

' accents and other falsifications). Ronald Blythe
Ronald Blythe
Ronald Blythe is an English writer and editor, best known in his native England for his Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village , a portrait of agricultural life in Suffolk from the turn of the century to the 1960s...

 himself has a cameo role as the vicar and all other parts are played by real-life villagers.

Akenfield is a made-up placename based partly upon Akenham
Akenham is a village and civil parish in the Mid Suffolk district of Suffolk in Eastern England. Located on the northwestern edge of Ipswich, in 2005 it had an estimated population of 60....

 (a small village just north of Ipswich
Ipswich is a large town and a non-metropolitan district. It is the county town of Suffolk, England. Ipswich is located on the estuary of the River Orwell...

, the county town of Suffolk) and probably partly on Charsfield
Charsfield is a small Suffolk village of approximately 250 residents, from Wickham Market, miles from Woodbridge and miles from Ipswich and is located near the villages of Debach and Dallinghoo...

, a village just outside the small town of Wickham Market
Wickham Market
Wickham Market is a large village situated in the River Deben valley of Suffolk, England, within the Suffolk Coastal heritage area.It is on the A12 trunk road thirteen miles north-east of the county town of Ipswich, five miles north-east of Woodbridge. Its railway station is located approximately...

, Suffolk, about ten miles north-east of Akenham. The film of Akenfield was made on location in the villages just west of Wickham Market, notably Hoo
Hoo, Suffolk
Hoo is a village and a civil parish in the Suffolk Coastal district, in the county of Suffolk, England. Nearby settlements include the town of Wickham Market and the villages of Kettleburgh, Charsfield and Letheringham.- References :...

, Debach
Debach is a small village about 4 miles northwest of Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK. At the time of the Domesday Book it was called Debenbeis or Debeis, Depebecs, Debec or Debes...

, Charsfield, Monewden
Monewden is a small village and a civil parish in the in the hundred of Loss, in the Suffolk Coastal District, in the English county of Suffolk. Monewden has a church called St. Mary's Church and a meadow called High House Meadows. The nearest town is Wickham Market.- References :*...

, Dallinghoo
- Location :Dallinghoo is a village some 3 miles north of Woodbridge, Suffolk, England.Formed from Church Road and Pound Hill to the south and branches NE after the centre of the village....

, Letheringham
Letheringham is a sparsely populated civil parish in the Suffolk Coastal in Suffolk, England, on the Deben River.-Sights:St Mary is a tiny church, the remains of the tower and nave of a Priory church, and sits in a farmyard...

 and Pettistree
Pettistree is a village and a civil parish in the Suffolk Coastal District, in the English county of Suffolk. Pettistree has a place of worship and 2 pubs. It is just south of the small town of Wickham Market. For transport there is the A12 road nearby....

. The actors in the film were non-professional, drawn from the local population, and therefore speak with authentic accents and play their parts in a manner unaffected by the habit of stage or screen performance. After making the film, most returned to usual rural occupations.

Ronald Blythe's book of Akenfield is a gritty work of hard scholarship, rooted in detailed statistical data, presenting a very realistic grounded understanding of the economic and social life of a village. Life in Ronald Blythe's written Akenfield is less anecdotal than, for instance, John Moore's Brensham or Elmbury. The film is a remarkable translation of this scholarly view into a portrait of a rural community told through the eyes of one of its members. In seeing through his eyes, we also see through the eyes of his ancestors.


The central character Tom (Garrow Shand) is a young man living alone in a cottage with his widowed mother (Peggy Cole) in the 1970s. The setting is within the few days surrounding the funeral of Tom's grandfather, who was born and grew up in the village in the early 1900s, experienced much poverty and hard work, fought in the First World War (where he lost most of his comrades), returned, made a failed attempt to escape the village by walking to Newmarket for a job, took a wife in the village and lived in a tied cottage on the farmer's estate for the rest of his life. His son, Tom's father, was killed in the Second World War, and Tom has grown up hearing all sorts of stories from his grandfather. Everyone around him says what a good old boy his grandfather was, and remembers the old days, but all Tom can hear is the words of his grandfather ringing in his ears, and now in 1974 he is making his own plans to get away, with or without his girlfriend. The cycle goes round and round, and all the time the customs and the landscape are so colourful and beautiful, with prominent and striking use of music by Michael Tippett
Michael Tippett
Sir Michael Kemp Tippett OM CH CBE was an English composer.In his long career he produced a large body of work, including five operas, three large-scale choral works, four symphonies, five string quartets, four piano sonatas, concertos and concertante works, song cycles and incidental music...

 (Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli
Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli
Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli, also known as the Corelli Fantasia, is a work for string orchestra by the British composer Michael Tippett...

), but with the skull-like menace of poverty, entrapment and war grinning through the veil of rural beauty. Will Tom be defeated by the land and the hard work, just as his grandfather was? Shand plays all three generations, grandfather, father and son.

Literary environment

  • For East Anglian folklore, perhaps in such scenes as 'Hollering largesse', there is an allusion to the work of John Glyde Jnr in The New Suffolk Garland.
  • Past and present, and the experiences of successive generations, merge in the way suggested by T. S. Eliot
    T. S. Eliot
    Thomas Stearns "T. S." Eliot OM was a playwright, literary critic, and arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century. Although he was born an American he moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 and was naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at age 39.The poem that made his...

     in East Coker
    East Coker (poem)
    East Coker is the second poem of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets. It was started as a way for Eliot to get back into writing poetry and was modeled after Burnt Norton. It was finished during early 1940 and printed for the Easter edition of the 1940 New English Weekly...

    , in an eternal recurrence through cameos and flashbacks.
  • A courtship scene in which the future bride steals the clothes of a young man while he is swimming in the river, and is then chased by him naked across the fields, is borrowed from H.E. Bates' Uncle Silas story The Revelation (My Uncle Silas
    My Uncle Silas
    My Uncle Silas is a book of short stories about a bucolic elderly Bedfordshire man, written by H.E. Bates and illustrated by Edward Ardizzone.-Inspiration:...

    , 1939).
  • A scene in which the grandfather as a young man is reaping, and weeps when he accidentally crushes a bird's egg, is derived from a Thomas Bewick
    Thomas Bewick
    Thomas Bewick was an English wood engraver and ornithologist.- Early life and apprenticeship :Bewick was born at Cherryburn House in the village of Mickley, in the parish of Ovingham, Northumberland, England, near Newcastle upon Tyne on 12 August 1753...

     miniature in his History of British Birds. This is a homage to the oral historian George Ewart Evans
    George Ewart Evans
    George Ewart Evans was a Welsh-born schoolteacher, writer and folklorist who became a dedicated collector of oral history and oral tradition in the East Anglian countryside from the 1940s to 1970s, and produced eleven books of collections of these materials.-Life and career:Evans was born in a...

     of Blaxhall
    Blaxhall is a village and civil parish in the Suffolk Coastal district of Suffolk, England.Located around west of Aldeburgh, in 2007 its population was estimated to be 220.-External links:*...

    , a village near to Charsfield, who used the Bewick image on the title page of his first Blaxhall study Ask the Fellows Who Cut The Hay (Faber and Faber, London 1956).

External links

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