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Lonely Shore, The (1962)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

An unidentified alien expedition to what remains of Britain reports on its findings. It was the second such expedition, the first having amassed a substantial collection of artefacts before all its members perished. Anxious to avoid the same fate, the members of the second group prefer to observe from a distance.

A disparate group of chairs suggests that the Britons had no distinct manner of their own, and it is thought that they imitated the styles of many different eras, or imported them from abroad. The chairs are generally ugly, and seemingly machine-made.

The presence of many statues, busts and gnomes shows a fondness for imitation, which extends to making copies of fireplaces that do not themselves burn. One collection of artefacts is believed to have come from a single house, suggesting an excess of ownership and the consequent impossibility of having any rest.

Pictures were mass-produced on a large scale, in many different styles. Cubist paintings are judged to be signs of hysteria and other forms of madness. Metal sculptures appear to have no practical use, yet nuts, bolts and machine parts are embedded in them.

A rare exception to the parade of ugliness comes with a series of glasses and vases. The contrast is so great that it is believed that they must be the work of invaders or refugees who brought examples of a better tradition with them to Britain.

Throughout, there is evidence of the desire to imitate, whether false fish in a bowl of water, fake fruit, flowers, plants and even artificial barley.

A large object appears to be a hearth, but there is a no trace of a fire ever having been kindled in it. Beside it is a suit of armour (whose hollow back is used to hang fireplace implements) and a selection of effigies of dogs. It is believed that this is part of a cult of the dog.

Machines were also worshipped by the Britons, the design of a motorbike suggesting a religious function. Domestic dwellings were full of machines, many of which perform simple tasks that their users had evidently forgotten how to perform for themselves. A selection of clocks suggests an obsession with time, perhaps because the Britons knew that their days were numbered.

A large American car is assumed to be the primary religious artefact, as it exudes strength and power. The commentator believes it has a greedy, devouring look, and a set of picnicking paraphernalia in the boot is assumed to be a sacrificial offering.

The commentator explains that the original conclusion that the Britons died out as a result of a comet or solar flare is now believed to be mistaken. The evidence on the shore suggests that they suffered from a fundamental inner corruption, choked and weighted by possessions, downtrodden by machines, and capable only of imitation. If their lives were dominated by pretence, perhaps their thoughts were too. The commentator concludes that the only logical attitude to take is one of pity for these wretched, forgotten people.