Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RAVES!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 04/04/04

(I just had to put in an update today, if only to be able to type that date! It's the simple things in life....)

'Otherworld' logo

I know I'm a bit late with this. I video'd the Welsh version at New Year, but have been putting off watching it until now.

This 108-minute film, completed last year, is a mixture of live action and animation of various styles.

It's based on Pedeir Keinc Y Mabinogi, or what is known elsewhere as The Mabinogion, a collection of interlinked stories, dating from the pre-mediaeval period, which are the centrepiece of the whole history of Welsh prose. They have inspired generations of writers and poets, and are said to have been influential on Tolkein (yes, him again), C.S. Lewis and others. Many will be familiar with the stories from the translations into English by Charlotte Guest in the 19th century.

I'm not usually one for boasting, but I can claim the ability to read the stories in the original (with the help of some scholarly footnotes, partly because our 13th century forebears were useless at spelling), and I have recently re-read them with great enjoyment. It's a pity I didn't do that twenty-odd years ago when I was supposed to be studying them for my degree.

The film tells the story of three teenagers, each with their own problems and challenges in life, who go diving at the site of the isle of Gwales, said to be the doorway to the Otherworld of the English title. They find the doorway, and are transplanted into characters of the Mabinogi to face challenges which may, in due course, help them determine their path in their 'real' lives.

This sounds deadly dull and worthy. Believe me, it isn't. All right, it might have been better had we been given more background to the live-action characters' histories at the start, and the animation style might not be to the taste of those enamoured of high-tech, bang-up-to-date CGI-fests; but it's an enchanting (if you'll pardon the word) film, full of feeling. It must have been difficult trying to tell a series of interlinked tales in an overwhelmingly linear medium, but the makers pull it off pretty well.

It's not one for the squeamish or prudish, either: mediaeval realism has, thankfully, triumphed over the rather cutesy-pie Guestian legacy, and violence and sex make their due appearances.

I can rarely sit down and watch a movie - I don't have the attention span. But the time passes with ease with this film, and I was quite sorry when it ended - always a good sign.

The film has, unfortunately, been given only a limited theatrical release, and I don't think it's out on video or DVD yet. It has had some television exposure, however, and if it comes to a channel near you, please find time to watch it.

In this, it might help if you don't live in England. True to form, it seems that the English version has yet to find a screening spot on any of the English TV networks. Perhaps it didn't contain enough Central Casting clichés for the tunnel-visioned Visigoths who seem to run English television nowadays. I mean, how can it be any good if it comes from Wales and doesn't have a single choir in it, darlings?

Which brings me on to a rant. After watching the film, I Googled for some reviews. I found three from the mainstream London media. They were, I'm afraid, much as one would have expected. "It's a worthy cause, but it doesn't quite work", twittered the BBC; "a fey prog-rock world", hummed The Guardian; and worst of all, from some sneering twonk in The Telegraph, "This might pass muster on Welsh kids' TV, but for cinemas it will not do" (these last two remarks coming after each had repeated the BBC's patronising remarks about worthiness).

In my experience, no-one is quite as provincial (or as shallow) as the English metropolitan reviewer, especially when the subject of the review comes from one of England's subject cultures. Unless it conforms to a clear set of stereotypes, which obviates the need for the critic to actually think for him- or herself, then it may safely be patronised, dismissed or (in the hands of a truly versatile reviewer) both. Had this film come out of Prague or Budapest in the Cold War years, these same shallow hacks would have found all sorts of significances in it, and would have effused that it "sublimated this, transcended that and came to terms with the fundamental dichotomies of the other", as the much-missed Douglas Adams would have put it. They would also have been left with a profound and vivid insight into something-or-other, even if they had had to make it up to justify their expenses.

(For a further exposition on the laziness of English intellectuals vis-à-vis the cultures of the Celtic nations, see my rant here).

So please, if you have the chance, watch this film. I'm not claiming that it will change your life, but at least you will be able to make up your own mind and stick two fingers up at the pseudo-intellectual snobs of the London media at the same time - which is never a bad idea.

'Mabinogi' logo