Sunday, 18 November 2012
Uncertain Proof - a film about the possible survival of Edward II
I first heard of this film on Kathryn’s ‘Edward II’ blog. It was in production and that was all I heard about it. So I was delighted to see it for sale in Berkeley Castle shop. I bought it of course! It tells the story of Manuel de Fieschi’s quest to find out what happened at Berkeley Castle in 1327. In an interview with the screenwriter, A. G. Ford, on a second disc, the screenplay is first and foremost written as a piece of drama, about a conversation between the supposed Edward II and Manuel de Fieschi. It was the discovery of a copy of Manuel de Fieschi’s letter that led to debate about the possible survival of Edward II, and how he lived out his life as a hermit in Italy. So the film itself is not an exact account of what de Fieschi claimed.
In this version, de Fieschi has attended the court of Edward II and seen him and his lover Hugh Despencer at court. Later on, he claims to have been at Berkeley and heard the screams of Edward II. These scenes are in flashback, and we have a young de Fieschi as a priest having heard the strange story of an English hermit who lives high on a remote mountain. We don’t really know why de Fieschi is convinced the hermit is Edward – in fact, we just find out that he is desperate to be taken to see this hermit, and the isolation and bleakness of the hermit’s home dominates the first 20 minutes. When he reaches the remains of an old farm inhabited by a woman who feeds the hermit, we learn about the life of self-imposed hardship of the hermit. He lives in a disused pig-sty, which he locks from the inside, and he is therefore his own jailor. He comes out at certain times to eat the bread and water left by the woman, with whom he has virtually no contact. He has built his own altar and appears daily to worship there. Fieschi is deliberately portrayed as an arrogant young man with little calling to the priesthood, and when the old man appears, he continually goads him for deserting his duty as king. He cannot understand how someone who has lived as a king can now live like this. The hermit goes about his business, washing, eating etc, whilst Fieschi rants about the life Edward led with Piers Gaveston (yes, he gets a mention!) and Hugh Despencer, reminding Edward of the awful death suffered by Despencer. He talks about life at the court and kingly duty. Eventually, the hermit, who has not admitted to being Edward II, decides to talk to the young priest and explains his reasoning. He speculates what this Edward might say. Basically, the old man longs for death, but will not take his life, and regrets nothing, except the death of the old porter – the first admission by the hermit that he is Edward II. We are not able to witness their full conversation, but de Fieschi comes away much moved by the hermit’s story. I have to admit, I found the film deeply moving as well – to think that Edward now lived this poor, remote life with nothing to look forward to but death. There was no contact with anyone, and his life must have been dominated by the events of his reign. It is of course only an interpretation, but one that shows great sympathy for the supposed Edward, and whilst I do not believe the ‘red hot poker story’ and strongly believe Edward survived, it made me question the misery of the survival he may have endured. Well worth watching.