Sir Henry at Rawlinson End is one of the strangest films in my collection of the strange and obscure and certainly one of the most difficult to review. It is a true original; even the script is unusual. And it is about as far from Hollywood mainstream as New Zealand is from Britain. Not a film for easy viewing and it would help considerably to have some idea of the isolated world of Britain’s pampered ruling classes.
Shot entirely in sepia and white, it is a genre defying surreal parody of Britain’s dysfunctional nobility verging on the bizarre. In fact it can be read as a comic attack (or perhaps that should read ‘exposé’) on the lordly edifice. It has though a droll humour rooted in the Victorian age and an elderly poetry style permeates.
A rambling mansion and its estate play host to an astonishing array of extraordinary and anachronistic characters living out their detached lives. Led by Sir Henry himself (played by Trevor Howard in his last film role), a drunken sot that has optics placed at every important location, including his bedside, to the old Irish retainer, Old Scrotum the house bristles with oddities both incumbent and visiting.
It is difficult to recognise story, though there is one of sorts, and the viewer is left with aught but to view with disbelief these astonishing characters and their antics. Scary for myself at least, is the knowledge that it is entirely possible that they are all based on reality.
The story stems from the mind of Vivian Stanshall (1942-1995), a man with a very colourful history. He could be described as a singer/songwriter, artist, author, poet and wit. He could also be described as the eccentric’s eccentric. Indeed many might think he never had a tree to fall out of in the first place. He defied his draconian father to attend art school where he met the motley gang that became known as the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, who he fronted and produced much of the music for. This gave him his platform.
The story unfolded slowly during a stint on radio for the John Peel Show and the parts were eventually gathered and pulled together for an audio tape then scripted for this film.
So if you have a love of the truly obscure mixed with a large dose of post-Victorian humour and poetry this could be the strangest journey you’ll ever take. If you need to understand what’s going on and a defining story stay well away.