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The Wicker Man:
The Final Cut

Director – Robin Hardy – 1973 – UK – Cert. 15 – 94m


A Christian police sergeant investigating a missing child on a remote Scottish island meets a terrible fateout as a Collector’s Edition UHD / Blu-ray /DVD from Monday, September 25th following its release in UK cinemas in a 4K restoration from Wednesday, June 21st, 2023

(Originally reviewed for cinema release in a 2K restoration on Friday, September 27th, 2013)

Originally released forty years ago in the UK in a cut down version its director disliked, The Wicker Man now reaches our cinema screens in a longer, restored version which he says fulfils his original vision. Its plot is deceptively simple. A Christian police sergeant flies to a remote Scottish island in response to a letter about a missing child. But when he arrives on Summerisle, no-one seems to have heard of that child. It gradually emerges that the policeman has stumbled into an intricate web of lies and deceit wherein a terrible fate awaits him….

Using material from a recently discovered, longer US release print – rechristened The Final Cut by Hardy who assembled this cut in 1979 – it’s a provocative work on a number of levels. Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward)’s Christian values comprise dogma about Christ being the Resurrection and the Life plus traditional sexual mores: he’s engaged to be married and does not believe in sex before marriage.

He blunders onto the island believing his own values to be true whilst deriding those of the locals as “filth”, making no attempt to engage with their very different socio-cultural model. His Christian faith has no obvious social justice element; he merely imposes mainland law as his profession requires. In the end it all goes horribly wrong for him.

The isolated island has drifted towards more ritualistic, Pagan practices. Under the watchful eye of Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), virginal young men are sent for nighttime initiation with the landlord’s daughter Willow (Britt Ekland), young women cavort naked in the grounds of his estate and schoolchildren are taught the maypole’s seasonal significance as a phallic symbol.

Such country matters are further underscored by songs on the soundtrack including the striking Gently Johnny (cut from the original UK release prints) and a drinking song about The Landlord’s Daughter which joyfully extol the virtues of male / female companionship and congress.

Sgt. Howie finds himself inadvertently in attendance for the latter whilst trying simply to get a quiet evening meal at the island’s pub. On his second night, he must resist Willow as she dances naked in the room next to his, pounding on the wall in a frenzied offering of her bodily self to him – which offer he, with some difficulty, resists.

Which is not to suggest that a different approach by the sergeant would have worked: the islanders, from the local Lord right down to the teacher, the pub landlord and the alleged mother of the missing girl seem to have deliberately lured him there with a terrifying agenda of their own. When questioned, their answers are consistent, presenting a united, impenetrable front.

The islanders’ treatment of Howie recalls Sodom’s attitude to its angelic visitor. Given the script’s trajectory, it’s not just a lack of hospitality to outsiders coupled with a desire for sexual connection, but altogether nastier. Hardy’s portrayal of the little community is masterful – the sexual innuendo of the folklorish songs and the attitude of the people, the loving re-creation of joyous (and sometimes lethal) May Day celebrations and rituals, the tendency of small, self-contained communities to follow a charismatic leader such as Lord Summerisle, even to the extent of scapegoating our outsider.

For Christians, Woodward’s extraordinary portrayal of the policeman with matter-of-fact, professional piety makes for deeply uncomfortable viewing. In retrospect, it also has prophetic resonance with 1987’s Teeside child sex abuse scandal while back in the day it echoed Victorian missionaries blindly blundering into indigenous societies causing irreparable cultural damage.

In parallel, it provides an astonishing glimpse into the world of a hermetically sealed, religious cult cut off from orthodoxy and allowed to develop unchecked under the direction of an unhinged individual. Superficially a Christian-bashing film, on a deeper level The Wicker Man explores contrasting religious world views and moralities to lavishly repay multiple viewings. The upcoming BD/DVD release – packed with three different edits including this one – will provide the chance to do exactly that. Seeing this Final Cut on the big screen beforehand is highly recommended.

The Wicker Man: The Final Cut is out as a Collector’s Edition UHD / Blu-ray /DVD from Monday, September 25th following its release in UK cinemas in a 4K restoration from Wednesday, June 21st, 2023, in turn following its release in a 2K restoration on Friday, September 27th, 2013.


Review originally published in Third Way, 2013.

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