COMPOSERS: Tony Britten
LABELS: Capriol Films
ALBUM TITLE: Benjamin Britten: Peace and Conflict
WORKS: Benjamin Britten: Peace and Conflict
PERFORMER: Alex Lawther, John Hurt; Raphael Wallfisch, Iain Burnside etc, The Benyounes Quartet, Gresham’s Brass Group & Senior Choir
CATALOGUE NO: CAP 08
Britten’s life-long pacifism is central to much of his work including the War Requiem, yet has rather been taken for granted by biographers. The usual assumption – encouraged by Britten himself – is that his principles came from his teacher, Frank Bridge. Tony Britten (no relation), writer, producer and director of this thought-provoking film, now suggests an entirely new but persuasive theory: that Britten’s pacifism and left-wing politics were forged during his two years boarding at Gresham’s School. Though the sensitive and homesick Britten sometimes loathed ‘this abominable hole’, Gresham’s was a progressive school where independent thought was encouraged. The recent trauma of World War I, in which a fifth of former Gresham’s pupils who had served were killed, meant anti-war sentiments were openly preached in the school chapel. Many of its pupils had liberal or left-leaning parents; indeed – as the film shows – many of Britten’s long-term friends from Gresham’s were sympathetic to, or even joined, the Communist Party.
Atmospherically filmed, Britten’s school days are re-enacted at Gresham’s itself by a fine young cast, with Alex Lawther as a fey yet intense Britten. John Hurt’s narrative binds the film’s elements, including some documentary footage, several interviews, and performances given by interviewees such as Raphael Wallfisch and Iain Burnside. Tony Britten’s film amounts to far more than the sum of its parts, managing to avoid the potential pitfalls of such a mix through scrupulous research and faithfulness to its material. Truly revelatory.