The Witches 1966 ***

Joan Fontaine made an illustrious lead as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, and seems on odd choice for the lead in Hammer Films’ The Witches, a slow and moody horror film in a minor key. Nurse Gwen (Fontaine) returns from something nasty happening to her in Africa to a sleepy British town, but taking up a post as an English teacher leads her to suspect a coven of witches are at work. Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale adapts a novel by Norah Lofts, setting up a slow-burning mystery that’s all the more quaint for the Ladybird-book simplicity of 1966 Britain, shot in an early version of Hammer’s Kensington Gore style.  Support from Alec McCowen and Leonard Rossiter keeps the interest going, and there’s a sense in which the measured, restrained tone matches up nicely with the polite exterior of the sleepy community the drama is set inside.


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