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Independent Film Review – Witch

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Ah yes, the good old days are always fair game for fiction and fantasy. The particular old days we’re looking at in Witch are those of the late 16th century. To be precise, the film starts by saying we are in the England of 1585. For some reason IMDb insists on Witch being set in 1575. Still…what’s ten tears between friends? It was during the first Elizabethan period whichever date we take. Another period it was in the middle of was the one when witch trials were all the rage. Between the 15th and 18th centuries around 500 people were executed for witchcraft in England alone; 90% of those people were women.

Many a time I’ve stated that I’m a fan of courtroom dramas. It is the cut and thrust of the arguments, the accusations and rebuttals, the evidence and the testimony, all being presented by skilled orators. Although there is a trial to be watched in Witch, it is deeply unsatisfying for a fan of legal dramas. That’s not the fault of the film, it’s the fault of the process being depicted. Back then it was all accusation and acceptance. Someone pointed a finger and said “She’s a witch” and that was pretty much it. A witch was a servant of the devil and would, obviously, lie. So, when you asked the accused if they were a witch and they said “no” then they must have been lying. Guilty. Next one please.

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Goosey Goose Gander

But, let’s face it, when you press play on a film called Witch that is set in Elizabethan England you aren’t expecting Perry Mason or Rumpole to pop up! What you are looking for is, mainly, spookiness and misery. Spookiness thanks to the supernatural theme suggested by the title and misery due to life being, as Thomas Hobbes put it, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Let’s face it, there wasn’t a vast amount of choice when it came to soap or scent. I’m guessing that in a peasant’s rough hut it would have been difficult to tell the difference between the potpourri and the compost heap. And don’t even start looking for anti-perspirant! Back then they tended to rely on the “if we all smell then no-one smells” philosophy. 

If you ever find yourself in York then I heartily recommend a trip to the Jorvik Viking Centre. They have a recreation of a Viking village from around the 10th century. It is quite fascinating and I’ve been a few times. Obviously everything looks so different and there is a sound track of village activities, animals, and the mannikins seem to be speaking Old Norse. But, most engaging, are the smells! As you pass through the village you are become aware of what their life must have smelt like. Scents of damp forest, incense, freshly planed wood, and leather aren’t unusual and also not unpleasant. However, the fish stall, tallow candles, and rotting meat are less enjoyable. And the least said about the Viking Caganer straining over the cess pit, the better!

Whither Shall I Wander?

Now, I have a hunch that the smells, particularly the more noxious ones, are toned down a bit in the Jorvik Centre. I can’t help but think that if the recreated smell of Erik the Pooper was as eye wateringly intense as I’m sure the real life thing would have been then I could imagine a lot of visitors contributing to the whiff with some brand new barf. They want people to recommend the experience to their family and friends as well as coming back for repeat visits. You’re less likely to do that if you’d left your half digested fish and chips behind. Similarly, I don’t think that a film showing pock marked, grubby peasants with exceptionally dirty and damaged teeth would win a lot of fans and followers. 

Still, ignoring the cosmetic anachronisms, Witch was an entertaining way to pass the best part of two hours. Sarah Alexandra Marks and Ryan Spong were very good as the wrongly accused Twyla and her husband William the blacksmith. Daniel Jordan obviously relished his role as the unsympathetic Judge Hopkins and Fabrizio Santini seemed to be having great fun as Judge Hopkins’ muscle. And hats off to relative newcomer Mims Burton who nailed it as the demon possessed Johanna. It was just a shame they had her singing Goosey Goose Gander which wasn’t published until 1784! Still, there is a time travelling sub plot which may explain it as well as showing the possibility of a sequel in the mid credits sequence…

Witch has a digital release on 29th April 2024

Movie Grade: B+ 

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September 23, 2023

This app is the best wingman for a movie goer, especially when you have to go. It even has a vibrating timer that is spot on for those ‘go times’ some of us need! There are many other features that are wonderful. It even lets you know when the kill scenes are coming up for the people and animals for those who may have sensitivities to that type of content. The staff go above and beyond!

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