205–237, 2000.© 2001
Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Nymphs, Shepherds, and Vampires: The Agrarian Myth on Film
Fomerly lectured in the Social and Political Sciences Faculty at the University of Cambridge(E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Itis, Ithink, afactthat any efﬁcient director, when hegets downtomakinga ﬁlm about the soil and the people of the soil, loses much of his tritenessand mannerism, and produces something that is related to the simplicityof the earth itself. The nearer a ﬁlm draws to the ﬁelds and the hills andthe prairies, the better, as a rule, it is. (C.A. Lejeune,
(London,1931), p. 232)In the end, he who screens the history, makes the history. (Gore Vidal,
(London, 1992), p. 81)When in the early 1990s John Major, the last Conservative Prime Minister of the UK, extolled the virtues of ‘long shadows on country cricket grounds’,‘warm beer’ and ‘old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through themorning mist’ in support of his back-to-basics campaign, he was widelyderided for adhering to outdated rural images of English national identity.Popular culture, critics pointed out, had long since moved on, and now eithercelebrated or reﬂected different and more accurate kinds of non-traditional,non-rural identity. Perhaps without knowing it, John Major had invoked oneof the central emplacements of conservative ideology: the pastoral variantof the agrarian myth, or a benign, a-political or politically neutral Arcadianimage associated in Britain with Ealing ﬁlm comedies of the 1940s. Hiscritics, however, failed to understand two things. First, that such images arehistorically far more common, far more durable and far less benign politicallythan usually thought. And second, that the plebeian and aristocratic versionsof the agrarian myth continue to structure popular culture in general and itsmost powerful medium, the cinema, in particular, where they have been farmore dominant than is generally realized.A potent form of ruralism with roots in romantic and conservative notionsof an organic society, the agrarian myth is an essentialist ideology which inmany different historical and geographical contexts proclaims the mutuallyreinforcing aspects of landownership, farming, national identity and culture.Among other things, this populist discourse has entailed a critique of industri-alization, urbanization and modernity based on nostalgia for a vanishing way-