Way Of The Morris (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner08/09/2011

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 67 mins

Enjoyable, engaging and gently amusing, this is a well made and ultimately moving documentary that benefits strongly from the appealingly personal approach of filmmaker Tim Plester.

What's it all about?
Co-directed by Tim Plester and Rob Curry, Way of the Morris follows London based filmmaker Plester as he returns to his home village of Adderbury in Oxfordshire in order to explore the Morris dancing traditions that have deep roots in both the village itself and in his own family. The key interviewee is villager Bryan Sheppard, who helped revive the tradition in the mid-70s after a 60 year break following the deaths of all but one of the village's pre-1914 Morris team in the trenches of World War I.

Plester's own family connection to the tradition reaps great dividends because his grandfather was apparently also something of a budding documentarian, who shot tonnes of surprisingly accomplished home movie footage of the village Morris men in the sun dappled summers of the 1970s. Throughout the film, Plester wrestles with his own heritage and wonders if he should become a Morris man himself, while freely admitting that rhythm and dancing are not his strong suits.

The Good
Plester's appealingly personal approach works extremely well and the film effectively captures the gradual awakening of his desire to embrace his own heritage. At the same time, the film’s tone makes you keenly aware of the fact that Morris dancing is viewed by outsiders as something of a national joke; the strength of the film is that it's actually capable of changing these opinions, even if the average viewer is unlikely to run out and join a Morris troupe.

Aside from Plester's own personal journey, the film also builds to an extremely moving climax where the village Morris men travel to the Thiepval War Memorial in the Somme and find the names of their WWI counterparts amongst the lists of the dead.

The Bad
Plester has also assembled some impressive talking heads, including singer-songwriter Billy Bragg and occasional Fairport Convention member Chris Leslie, as well as various local experts who explain an intriguing schism between simple Blunt choreography (named after village historian Janet Blunt, who patiently observed and catalogued various Morris dancers) and the more common embellished routines associated with Morris man Cecil Sharp. Intriguingly, the village turns out to have two rival Morris troupes (a Blunt and a Sharp) and if the film has a fault it's that it refuses to explore or expand upon how this came about.

Worth seeing?
Way of the Morris is an engaging and informative documentary that's both gently amusing and quietly moving. Worth seeing.

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Content updated: 17/12/2017 04:23

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