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English Harvest (1938)

Main image of English Harvest (1938)
35mm, Dufaycolor, 9 mins
Directed byHumphrey Jennings
Production CompanyDufay-Chromex Ltd
Produced byAdrian Klein
Photography byJ.D. Davidson
MusicLudwig Van Beethoven
CommentaryA.G. Street

The harvesting process from scything to binding to protecting the finished sheaves from the weather.

Show full synopsis

The second of three films that Humphrey Jennings made for producer Adrian Klein as a showcase for the Dufaycolor process, English Harvest was shot in autumn 1937 and primarily exists to capture, in the words of Jennings' biographer Kevin Jackson, "a last glimpse of the peaceful world that is about to be bombed into oblivion."

Like its immediate predecessor Farewell Topsails (1937) and notably unlike much of Jennings' later work, the virtues of English Harvest are primarily pictorial, with cinematographer J.D. Davidson using the colour process to infuse its images with a timeless "classic" quality redolent of John Constable's paintings. The music is uncredited, but scarcely needs identifying, being instantly recognisable as Beethoven's 'Pastoral' symphony. This is occasionally faded to make space for a characteristically laconic commentary by A.G. Street (1892-1966), a prolific writer and radio broadcaster whose work drew so heavily on his own farming background that he was widely known as the BBC's 'Voice of the Country'.

Aside from oblique references to the countryside as "the playground of the town, the workshop of the country" and low-angle shots that seem inspired by heroic images of workers from Soviet propaganda films, Jennings generally seems content to simply depict the harvesting process, from scything, binding and 'stooking' (arranging the wheat sheaves to their heads are kept off the ground) to relaxation over ale and tea. He also shows the cyclical and seasonal nature of the job through the way that last year's straw is used to protect this year's grain from the rain, and the commencement of ploughing for next year's crop after the harvest has been gathered. Street bookends his commentary with the same observation: farming is a slow business, but it never stops.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
Farewell Topsails (1937)
Jennings, Humphrey (1907-1950)