'England, My England' tells the story of our of our great composers and uses rich colours and settings to recreate the court of Charles II and his royal patron, Mary. It employs many of our leading actors, with Simon Callow as the mainstay, and singers; some of whom, like Susan Graham, are now at the summit of their profession. The choice of Purcell's music to illustrate episodes in his life is well-judged and always apt, and there are many discoveries to be made: the quality of music in 'King Arthur', especially. I particularly liked the final touch of the Britten 'Young Person's Guide' finale, based on Purcell- a tribute to another of our great composers.
Above all, Callow's film is an intelligent historical and social commentary on Purcell's world, and our apparently very different, world. The theme cutting across both is that of violence, lurking under the surface, and erupting at times into sectarianism and revolt: the film makes a direct link between the No Popery sectarianism that swept through England and the stridency of Ian Paisley and the Orange Order.
Callow comments also on the concept of English identity - part of Europe, but not part of it, unsure of its place, a 'hanger on'. My only slight reservation is the occasional tendency of Callow, playing the modern actor, to rant, rather than leaving us, his audience, to reach our own judgements.
Purcell the composer comes across as a beacon of English identity, writing music of genius that is neither French nor Italian (the competing factions at the time) but uniquely English. Yet even today only a handful of his works out of an enormous output, written in the same lifespan as Mozart's, are really well-known. This film goes some way towards rectifying this situation.