The Britbox streaming service has a way to go to convince the public that it can be an alternative to Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney + in the UK. A joint BBC/ITV venture, it is, like early Netflix, reliant on existing content, but tv content is not as timeless as the best movies are; the result feels like a pacifier for the elderly, rather than a new force in streaming. And with so many great films turning up on You Tube, it wouldn’t be hard to gather up the rights to a better selection of movies than the paltry last-turkeys-in-the-shop offered here.
And the exception that proves the rule is Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves, a rather striking riff of werewolf myths and mythology based on a script and story by Angela Carter. Jordan feels that this is not a horror film, and certainly it doesn’t adhere to most of the clichés of the genre. It also doesn’t match the description on Britbox; ‘starring Terence Stamp’ reads the blurb, but Stamp has roughly twenty seconds of screen-time, playing the Devil, and says precisely one line.
Instead, the star of the film is the attitude of the author, Carter’s take on fairy-tales could be nicely summarised by the phrase ‘don’t bet on the prince’. Alive to the way that traditional stories re-enforce male dominance, Carter turns the hymn-sheet upside down to depict exactly how the werewolf legend might inform and inspire womanhood. Thus the stories told by Rosealeen (Sarah Patterson) by her granny (Angela Lansbury) deal with men who are hairy on the inside, with Stephen Rea undergoing a memorable transformation as a groom who comes home years after his wedding night.
Lansbury is not the only name here for genre fans; Brian Glover is a perfect villager, David Warner a father determined to protect his family, and Graham Crowden, a veteran of Lindsay Anderson’s sci-fi satire, plays the local priest. Micha Bergese, the choreographer, also has a striking scene. Their faces are right for a low-budget yet creatively imaginative production that evokes a dream-world that might have forerunners in Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. The influence of The Saragossa Manuscript is evident in the episodic structure, but the curious narrative form allows Jordan to be true to the spirit of Carter’s work.
This was a hard X at the cinemas, and seeing at as a schoolboy circa 1985, The Company of Wolves for, for sure, a horror movie for me, right up there with Alien. The gruesome effects haven’t dated at all, and there’s also some striking moment where wolves burst through the airs and graces at a costume dinner party, or Lansbury gets casually decapitated. The horror is real, but comes from a different source that other films; the imagery is re-set from a feminist POV, and that gives The Company of Wolves a unique flavour. Goodness knows what casual Britbox viewers will make of it, but The Company of Wolves is a neglected classic well worth tracking down.