Filmmaker Andrew Kötting (‘Gallivant’, ‘Ivul’) and writer Iain Sinclair continue their eccentric collaboration (‘Swandown’) with this atypically muted and sombre – yet still experimental and vivid – reflection on the life and mind of the ‘mad’ nineteenth-century poet John Clare.
In 1841, Clare famously walked 90 miles from an Essex asylum to his birthplace of Northampton. It’s that journey that Kötting’s film, part reconstruction, part documentary, part performance piece, takes most interest in. Taking to the road, we meet interviewees along the way, including ‘Watchmen’ author Alan Moore and a Clare expert dressed as a boxer. Sinclair (often wearing a sheep mask) holds the big fluffy mic while Kötting stays out of sight (apart from when he’s dressed as a straw man).
Any sense of travelogue is restrained in favour of matters of the mind and of representing Clare’s perspective through image and sound – although, pointedly, Kötting handles both less anarchically than in other films where he’s been dealing with the ‘sane’ world. Toby Jones gives a silent performance as Clare, endlessly walking and observing, an 1840s man lost in a 2014 landscape. Meanwhile, Jones’s own father, Freddie Jones, who played Clare on the BBC in the 1970s, reads the poetry and answers Sinclair’s questions at the end. Mysterious and melancholic.