Wessex on Screen: Cross Currents

Cross Currents is a 1935 film about which little information is available beyond the briefest of plot synopses: a Devon vicar tries to clear his name after being accused of murdering his rival in love. As Hitchcockian as this sounds, Cross Currents is described as a comedy. It was set in Devon, but filmed in Cornwall.

The film, based on the novel Nine Days' Blunder by Gerald Elliott, was produced by Paramount British as a "quota quickie". The Cinematograph Films Act of 1927 was designed to give a boost to the British film industry, and those of British dominions such as Canada, creating a studio system modelled on that of Hollywood at the time, with production, distribution and exhibition of films being handled by the same (British or imperial) companies. In practice, Hollywood studios simply set up British subsidiaries, churning out B-movies that were designed for no other purpose than to meet the quota for British films specified in the Act, released as supporting features for American films.

The Act was modified in 1938 to exclude Empire nations, and repealed in 1960. It was not generally considered a success, but did aid in the production of some bona fide classics, such as The 39 Steps (1935) and The Thief of Baghdad (1940). Paramount British continued into the 1970s, its biggest success probably being The Italian Job (1969).

Wessex Attractions: Okehampton Castle

Okehampton Castle was once the largest castle in Devon. As with several castles that we've covered in recent weeks, it was originally built for one of the Bastard's extended family, in this case Baldwin FitzGilbert, husband of his cousin Albreda. It was still a working castle during the reign of Henry VIII, but when Henry Courtney, the 2nd Earl of Devon, was executed in 1539 for allegedly taking part in a Popish plot, the castle fell into ruin.

Today, it is owned by English Heritage. Entry is free for members, non-members should consult their website for prices. The grounds in particular are famous for the large numbers of bluebells that grow there in springtime. The postcode, for satnav purposes, is EX20 1JA.

Wessex Attractions : Deddington Castle

Like Berkeley Castle in our last blog post, Deddington Castle was built in the aftermath of the Conquest by someone close to the Bastard (in this case his half-brother Odo, bishop of Bayeux and almost certainly the man who commissioned the famous tapestry). Unlike Berkeley, little of the castle now survives, and it remains a magnificent ruin rather than a thriving stately home.

Archaeological excavations reveal that the area was settled before the castle was built. With an enclosure 200 metres wide and ramparts 15 metres high, it must have been a powerful symbol of Norman domination in the area.

Remains of a 13th century chapel have been found on the site, and there were four fish ponds there during that period. After that, the castle went into decline, and now only earthworks remain.

The satnav postcode for the site is OX15 0TP. Many people combine it with a visit to the Rollright Stones, 10 miles away. But that's a subject for another blog post.

Wessex Attractions: Berkeley Castle

Berkeley Castle was built shortly after the Norman invasion by William FitzOsbern, the Bastard's guardian and counsellor; who fought alongside him at Hastings, and was subsequently made the 3rd Earl of Wessex, the only Norman to hold the title (unless the present incumbent counts). After his death in 1071, the original motte-and-bailey castle passed to one Roger de Berkeley, and subsequently to his son Roger de Berkeley and grandson Roger de Berkeley (the Normans apparently didn't quite understand how names work).

The present castle was constructed by Robert Fitzharding in 1153, 26 years after Edward II famously died when someone inserted a red-hot poker into his plop-socket (according to Holinshed, though his account of the murder has been disputed). In the 14th century, Dickie Pearce, the last court jester in England, died after falling from the Minstrel's Gallery, thus eliciting the biggest laugh of his career.

The castle was captured by the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War. In the 18th century, the 4th Earl of Berkeley planted a pine tree supposedly grown from a cutting taken at the Battle of Colluden.

More recently, Berkeley Castle has been used as a filming location in many historical and period dramas, such as The Other Boleyn Girl, Wolf Hall and Father Brown. It appeared in an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? when Courtney Cox traced her ancestry back to the aforementioned Edward II. It has given its name to two Royal Navy warships, and a Castle class steam locomotive owned by the GWR (and subsequently British Rail).

Today, the castle is a popular tourist attraction, open to the public between May and October and playing host to many events such as recitals of early English music, and Tudor-era re-enactments. The gardens feature many scented roses, a lily pond, and a butterfly house with 42 exotic species flying freely. Opening hours are 11am-5pm (10.30am for the gardens). Tickets are available online. The postcode, for satnav purposes is GL13 9PJ.