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Tocher, The (1938)

Courtesy of Royal Mail Group Ltd

Main image of Tocher, The (1938)
35mm, black and white, 5 mins
Directed byLotte Reiniger
Production CompanyGPO Film Unit
AnimatorLotte Reiniger
Music arrangerBenjamin Britten

Cast: Angus, Rhona, The Laird, Her Kinsman, The Wee Folk

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A fairy tale about a man who wins his true love with the help of the "wee folk"... and the latest Post Office initiative.

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Much more characteristic of Lotte Reiniger's style and preoccupations than the more overtly promotional The H.P.O. (made the same year, 1938), The Tocher is adapted from a Scottish folk tale in which young lovers Angus and Rhona are forcibly separated by her father, the Laird, on the grounds that he is insufficiently wealthy to afford a dowry (the meaning of the Gaelic word 'tocher').

That Angus eventually triumphs is hardly surprising, and that the key to his success is a Post Office Savings Bank book is scarcely less so, given the film's sponsors. But unlike The H.P.O., the advertising message is restricted to a brief sequence at the end: up to that point, the film is one of Reiniger's quintessentially timeless fairytales.

The opening credits describe The Tocher as "a film-ballet", a phrase amply justified by the middle sequence in which Angus encounters "the wee folk" by the side of a lake. The combination of Reiniger's delicate silhouette creations (the "wee folk" all have elaborately latticed bell-shaped skirts), equally subtle effects of mist drifting over the scene, and Benjamin Britten's wordless choral score (adapted from original themes by Rossini) creates one of the most beautiful and haunting scenes in her entire output.

There is much to appreciate elsewhere, too. The character of the Laird is particularly well realised, from his tam o'shanter and bristling beard down to his garters. The Scottish ambience is maintained further through the language of Rhona's despairing letter ("My Ain Love, I maun wed my rich kinsman the morn"). It is probably not a coincidence that one of Reiniger's mentors when she was first seeking work in Britain in the mid-1930s was the Perthshire-born John Grierson, and The Tocher may well have been a conscious tribute.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'We Live in Two Worlds: The GPO Film Unit Collection Volume 2'.

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Video Clips
Complete film (4:54)
H.P.O., The (1938)
Reiniger, Lotte (1899-1981)
GPO Film Unit (1933-1940)
The GPO Film Unit: 1938