- Written by Andrew Clarke Andrew Clarke
- Published: 11 December 2016 11 December 2016
William Blake – mystic visionary, strainer against social convention and author of the leading contender for an English national anthem. A new film, Blake in Sussex, will explore his relationship with landscape, his personal life and his visions. The film makers are Matt Wilmshurst and Tim Day and InDulwich spoke to Matt.
“There is so much to tell about the Blakes,” he says. “Catherine was hugely important to him and without her he may not have survived and flourished”. These two Londoners left their home in Lambeth to spend three years in rural Felpham, near the Sussex coast.
“Blake’s always been a hero of mine and being a local hero I first thought about making a straight forward documentary about his time in Sussex, where he wrote the words to Jerusalem. Then I got thinking that it would be a greater achievement to put together a biopic in the form of a docu-drama. Peter Watkins is a huge influence here.” Watkins is probably still best known for Culloden and the War Game, two genuinely powerful and controversial docu-dramas made for the BBC in the 1960s.
What makes this project particularly enticing is that the Blakes have barely been dramatised on film. Mark Rylance and Lesley Clare O'Neill played them in a TV adaptation of the play, In Lambeth, in 1993 but that seems to be about it.
In Felpham itself, there has been lots of controversy surrounding the fate of the cottage the Blakes lived in. The Blake Cottage Trust was set up to purchase it but didn’t have the funds to restore it to. The aim was to remove later extensions, construct a multi-purpose building in the freed-up space and open it to artists and writers to stay in and for the public to visit on open days. There have been accusations of lying, double dealing and bullying.
According to the Bognor Regis Observer, the cottage is at least structurally secure for the foreseeable future, thanks to the installation of twenty metal supports. The filmmakers are not getting involved in the controversy but Matt adds that they had been able to visit and take some photos, which “was thrilling”.
A second teaser is on the way, about Blake’s walks as a young boy and his visits to Peckham Rye. Once it has been released, they “will begin visiting potential financiers with a full script, budget, cast etc.” Keep an eye on InDulwich for updates or sign up for the Blake in Sussex newsletter.