The Movie Waffler New Release Review - THIS BLESSED PLOT | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - THIS BLESSED PLOT

This Blessed Plot review
A Chinese filmmaker receives messages from the dead in a small English village.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Marc Isaacs

Starring: Yingge Lori Yang, Keith Martin, Susan Mallendine, Margaret Catteril, Paul Betttie, Norman Cullis

This Blessed Plot poster

For whatever reason, we live in an era where notions of identity, especially national identity, seem to be of increasing importance to people. We see flags in bios, waved in streets, hung from windows; allegiances to plots of land, pledges to perceived values, tribal signifiers. I can't help feeling unnerved by it all, personally. When someone, say, drapes a Union Jack about their rotund figure and takes to the streets screaming, what do they imagine that the emblem means? Victory or subjugation, liberation or intimidation? The flag can only ever reflect what the bearer thinks it stands for, as if waving a swatch of material somehow serves to legitimise their subjective beliefs (which are almost always in binary opposition to something or someone else).

Perhaps in a world which is increasingly atomised and insular, we want to belong, and so cling to aspects of a shared culture. And this fall back to nationalism is all that some people have; they say that they're English, they're British, they were Born Here. Imagine your defining characteristic being that you come from somewhere. Eeesh.

This Blessed Plot review

What is staunchly fascinating about director Marc Isaacs and writer Adam Ganz's delightfully enigmatic This Blessed Plot is that in a film about notions of Britishness, it completely defies any sort of categorisation itself. Nominally a pseudo-documentary, the film picks up with Lori (Lori Yingge Yang - who is an actual irl documentary maker, and whose website is pleasingly congruous with This Blessed Plot's meta weaving of fiction and reality: memories of where she came from can be "quite heavy sometimes," so she created a new identity "'Lori'...inspired by the American TV series 'Boston Legal.'"*), who is in Thaxted to make a documentary about the heritage of the town. As published by its own website, Thaxted has "a recorded history which dates back to before the Domesday Book" and "the past and the present come together" there. Dropped from her taxi in the opening scenes, Lori witnesses a troupe of Morris Dancers, while in frame behind her someone has pasted a Union Jack to their window: a neat diptych of the tension between past and present notions of what it means to be English, intimating the curious weight of history as it presses down on the present.

According to the male voiceover accompanying Lori's story, Thaxted is where the "paths of the dead cross with those of the living." He should know, as the authoritative tones ostensibly belong to Conrad Noel, a socialist vicar who has been dead for almost a century. The narration continues as Lori gets to her B&B, which is run by Maggie, a churchgoer who is the widow of a Morris Dancer and lives in a house chock full of the teddy bears she has collected over the years. While we know upfront that the voice of Conrad (actually provided by screenwriter Ganz) is an artifice, we are left unsure about Maggie, whose context and everyday presentation before the camera seems authentically British Eccentric.

This Blessed Plot review

In correlation to Maggie's arctophilia, we go on to meet Keith, who is a Gunner that has dedicated his home to collating masses of Arsenal merchandise and artefacts (look, I've never been into football, but as an outsider, it seems to me to be about belonging, right?). Like Maggie, Keith is bereaved, and the depth of verisimilitude the film affords to his presentation (the accumulation of football miscellany, the world-weary compassion) paints a convincing portrayal of a grieving man.

But part of the raison d'etre of this playful film involves flirting with our perceptions, and in This Blessed Plot what we might trust is being documented "as real" can often be refuted with deliberately jarring punchlines. And so, just as our heart is breaking for Keith, Lori happens upon his wife Maggie's ghost - played by a Margaret Catteril and filmed in clumsy high exposure, extolling Lori to make Keith change the inscription upon her gravestone. It's weird, and funny and surprising, and, yet somehow, still quite moving with it. The bizarre concept is sold by Lori, who is a gentle, almost naïve presence throughout, and takes the socialist vicar, the ghosts and the abiding niche obsessions of Thaxted with the accepted reserve of an intrigued interloper (earlier she pointedly unpacks a paperback of Camus' 'The Outsider' in case we didn't quite get it).

This Blessed Plot review

The return of Keith's pal, Uncle, to the town following porridge at Her Majesty's Pleasure is narratively serendipitous, tying in with Keith's Emirates fanaticism and, it turns out, unhappy marriage: a plot development which deliberately invokes another great British tradition, the Soap Opera, with its domestically situated storylines. This further shapes This Blessed Plot's bricolage of not only British iconography, but our media too: at regular intervals we cut to archival material from British Pathé, the Boultings' 'Ripe Earth' and, to cap it all, pastiche footage made by Isaacs himself! Models of authenticity and ensuing subjectivity are dealt with in a mischievous fashion but with a deep allegiance to the medium: in this loose, shaggy dog tale the storytelling is emotive, and the filmmaking is rich in painstaking detail.

Is the film's title ironic, relayed with the same knowing wink as Partridge's 'Scissored Isle' (both mockumentaries, after all, take their names from the same source)? While Isaac and Ganz never belittle their subjects, the perspectives within the film are nonetheless open, questioning the instinct to locate identity within the abstract. However, throughout This Blessed Plot's refractions, narrative trickery and refusal of assumptions, what remains sincere is the film's essential truth of how kind and decent and lovely people are. A warmth that is difficult to manufacture, and which here rings as true as a Morris Dancer's bell pads.

*unless, of course, Lori’s website is a multi-media commitment to "the bit."

This Blessed Plot is in UK cinemas from January 26th.

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