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The Shout (1977)

Ah, cricket. The real beautiful game. The sound of willow on leather, man against the elements. The shadows the birds cast as they swoop low over the wicket. 11 good men and true, standing, whites expertly washed and ironed, waiting for the next ball to be bowled. The bowler gently rubbing the ball against his leg, hoping that the extra shine will cause the ball to "swing" in flight. The batsman standing, nervous energy coursing through his veins, as he waits to see what the bowler will do. Without warning, the scoreboard explodes and some nutter starts dancing around in his underpants… But I'm getting ahead of myself. Yes, in case you hadn't guessed it, The Shout is set during a cricket match, as hairy weirdo Alan Bates tells a peculiar story to a confused Tim Curry.

Anyone who's ever scored during a match will know that tales of sex and violence whilst your trying to remember whether: 1. a "no-ball" is marked by a cross or a circle; 2. which bowler that was; and 3. how many balls have been bowled this over; are frowned upon, but that doesn't seem to worry old Tim. So sit back and enjoy Alan Bates' odd little tale, complete with mental-as-anything sound effects…

Curry is Charles, the scorer at a cricket match taking place in the grounds of an insane asylum. In the scorebox he is introduced to Robert (Bates), who immediately breaks the ice by telling him he believes his soul has been "shattered into four people".

"Think you can listen and score at the same time?" asks Robert. "Every word of what I'm going to tell you is true. Although I'm telling it in a different way, it's always the same story… I vary it a little because I like to keep it alive."

It's immediately clear that Bates' little tale is being populated by at least two people from the group playing and watching the match - John Hurt and his wife, played by Suzannah York.

The story starts with the pair of them (Hurt and York) asleep on a beach. They both have the same dream featuring a witch doctor in a tailcoat, holding something in his hand. This in itself is vaguely unsettling, but the odd atmosphere continues when Hurt gets back home, and starts playing with weird late 70s music equipment in his basement. His job is a sound effects technician, and his spends a good few minutes freaking out the audience by making full use of the film's jarring stereo soundtrack.

Hurt's character is also the organist at the local church, and it's pretty clear that it's not only the church organ that's getting a workout - he's having a torrid little affair witch a young Carol "All Creatures Great And Small" Drinkwater.

On leaving the church he's met by Bates (looking his seedy and dangerous best) who wants to start a theological discussion, but gets stopped short by the frankly rude young Mr Hurt. Whether this is what causes Hurt's eventual downfall, or whether it's got something to do with his extra marital activities, is left unclear. What does happen is that Bates weedles his way into Hurt's home life without so much as a by-your-leave (somehow his tales of killing his own children don't worry them too much) and before you know it, he's explained that the man in their dreams was a witch doctor he knew during his 18 years in the Australian Outback ("a genuinely terrifying man" apparently - if he scared the genuinely terrifying Bates he must have been a real shit-your-pants type). "He taught me the skill of the terror SHOUT." Bates explains. Hurt, his professional interest piqued, decides he'd like to hear this new sound. "I have heard some sounds in my time, you know," he says.

"It will kill you, then," is Bates' curt reply.

They go down to the beach next morning, and Bates unleashes his shout on Hurt, who promptly collapses (not surprisingly). The shout itself is once again a genuinely unsettling thing, even if it's basically the sound of an aeroplane taking off.

Hurt had blocked his ears, though, and wakes up in a slightly confused state to find himself surrounded by dead animals.

Who is Bates? What does he want? And what does all this have to do with cricket? To find out, and to see a very naked Suzannah York, you'll have to see the film. Luckily, it's not as rare as it was (FilmFour have been showing it recently) and it's well worth tracking down.

Can you get any more English than a film with the four Cs in it (Cricket, Countryside, Churches and Carol Drinkwater, in case you're wondering)? I think not. The Shout is probably the most quintessentially English film on this entire site. It's so English it's almost English-by-numbers, which is even odder when you consider that it was directed by a Polish bloke (the almost unpronounceable Jerzy Skolimowski). Perhaps it takes an outsiders' eye to see what makes up our peculiar way of life…

Last updated: February 27, 2010

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