The Norwich Film Festival may be over for this year, but there’s still plenty of Norfolk-centric film to glut upon. Take, for example Benjamin Britten- Peace and Conflict. Now, I have a confession to make; I know next to nothing about classical music. Any knowledge I do have is taken straight from Miloš Forman’s Amadeus and, according to Wikipedia, that film isn’t entirely factually accurate. It’s also potentially irrelevant to the life and works of Benjamin Britten, I’m too ignorant to know any different. But Peace and Conflict is about so much more than music. The thoroughly local film tells the life story of Britten, focusing upon his relationship with pacifism and how his life was shaped by the two world wars.
Underpinning Peace and Conflict are scenes from Britten’s days attending Gresham’s School in Holt. From 1928 -1930 Britten was a student there, during which time the school was used for officers’ training exercises. This glorification of the military conversely created a sense of pacifism within Britten that lasted the rest of his life and led him to leave England in 1939 only to return in 1942 with the non-combatant status which allowed him to work on opera Peter Grimes. The film follows Britten to liberated concentration camp Belsen where he performed in 1945. All of these experiences culminated in War Requiem. This set the poetry of Wilfred Owen to music and was written for the consecration of Coventry Cathedral in 1962, which was rebuilt after its destruction in World War Two.
Peace and Conflict is quintessentially a local film made by local people. Director Tony Britten was inspired to make the film when he moved to Holt and found the history of the composer on his doorstep. Living by Gresham’s School allowed the director to shoot the scenes on location using the students as actors. The scenes filmed here also feature dramatic monologues from Norfolk resident John Hurt. Additional material was shot in Britten’s home, the Red House in Adleburgh where Britten co-founded the annual arts festival in 1948 and is memorialised by a sculpture of a giant scallop shell.
The project relied, in part, upon crowd funding from the local community. Following appeals on the film’s website, through social media and in the local press, patrons donated anywhere between £5 and £500. The donors were kept updated about the films development via a newsletter from Tony Britten, while those who were able to give more received invitations to a special screening of the film in London. These screenings were also well attended by industry figures and Britten experts, many of whom were impressed by the fresh approach Peace and Conflict takes to the life and works of the composer. The film will now tour the country for further screenings.
Benjamin Britten- Peace and Conflict is showing at Cinema City from 24th –30th May, with a preview screening and Q & A session with Tony Britten on 23rd May.