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Shotgun (1966)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Shotgun (1966)
BBC, tx. 11/7/1966
50 minutes, black & white
DirectorJohn McGrath
ScriptJohn McGrath
 Christopher Williams
From the story byInoue Yasushi

Cast: Nigel Davenport (Joshua); Shirley Anne Field (Madeleine); Zena Walker (Harriet); Petra Markham (Vicky); Edward Fox (David)

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The story of a long love affair is told from three different viewpoints.

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In 1966, John McGrath produced a series of five films for television on the theme of love and marriage, following the success of a previous series, Six (BBC, 1964-65), which included his adaptation, with Ken Russell, of Diary of a Nobody (tx. 12/12/1964).

For Shotgun, which he also directed, McGrath adapted, with Christopher Williams, a contemporary Japanese short story, relocating it to the Scottish highlands. The story gave him an opportunity to explore the personal rather than the overtly political life, and to shoot entirely on location. He filmed in atmospheric black and white, juxtaposing the bleak beauty of the Scottish locations with the claustrophobic and self-consciously arty scene of 'swinging London'. He also assembled a first-class cast, including some of the leading British actors of the day, such as Nigel Davenport and Shirley Anne Field. Edward Fox appears in a tiny, wordless cameo.

The story is told three times, each time by a different woman, via the device of a letter heard in voiceover. The technique of telling the same story from the different viewpoints of the characters had been used most famously in another Japanese story, Rashomon (Japan, 1950). Much play is made with the shotgun of the title, and the threat of potential violence hangs over the characters - an impression reinforced by the casting of Davenport as Joshua, with his strong and brooding physical presence.

The film has a quality which is reminiscent of the work of Ingmar Bergman, as the camera dwells on rocks and water and faces. Having decided to film all of the series on location, McGrath seems to have turned the problems of recording sound into an opportunity to use a stylised technique, rather in the manner of classical Japanese theatre; most of the dialogue is delivered in voice-over, set against some ravishing visuals, and the story is told in flashback. Some contemporary reviewers found the exercise self-consciously filmic and ultimately dreary; others welcomed it as an exciting, new, even poetic television form.

Janet Moat

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Video Clips
1. Secrets (2:50)
2. The truth (1:30)
3. Deceptions (3:27)
4. Before I die (4:15)
Davenport, Nigel (1928-2013)
Field, Shirley Anne (1938-)
Fox, Edward (1937-)
McGrath, John (1935-2002)