Based on his novel Cowboys For Christ, Robin Hardy’s new film isn’t really a sequel to The Wicker Man – but it does have some themes in common, and can be considered a companion piece. The Wicker Tree sees a pair of Texan missionaries welcomed into an isolated Scottish community, and invited to take part in the town’s traditional May Day celebrations. As you’d expect, things don’t go well for them from there. We had a chat with Hardy to find out more…
It’s been almost 40 years since The Wicker Man was released. What was it that made you decide now was the time to make The Wicker Tree, to go back and revisit that world?
Well, there had always been talk, way back, that we’d do a number of films in that genre – and by genre, I mean mixing songs, a degree of comedy, a certain amount of sex, and horror – and we never had. I was always expecting someone else to, in effect, take the lead on doing that. I can see why it hasn’t happened, because of course it’s incredibly difficult to distribute and sell [films like that], which is really reason enough I suppose!
Anyway, when they did the remake of The Wicker Man, I thought, well, they’ll do that – they’ll do it with American songs, and American folklore, and all that sort of thing, and it’ll be very interesting to see how they convert it. But of course they didn’t do any of it. They threw it all out and just kept the plot. I must say, while there’s nothing particularly wrong with the plot, it’s not all that original.
It’s not what makes The Wicker Man special, really.
No, it’s not. And there was a certain amount of schadenfreude on my part with the reviews [of the remake], particularly the American ones. So I felt that it was time to prove that we could make another film in the same genre, and make it work.
The problem is, when you write a script with all those different things in it, the film company is going to think ‘What the hell is this?’ So it had to be a very indie picture. We relied, I think, on knowing that there was a large body of people out there interested in the genre, who had written about [The Wicker Man]; it was taught here in schools, as part of the Media Studies A-level, as recently as three or four years ago, and that showed that the idea was alive and well.
The UK has changed a lot since you made The Wicker Man, and it’s interesting that instead of being Scottish, the protagonists in The Wicker Tree are American. Did you feel you had to make those characters American, to make them plausible as the kind of innocent, true believers that they are?
Yes, they’re pretty sparse on the ground here. The American election is going to show this up quite a lot, but [in the US] 40 million people are registered fundamentalists, born agains. Admittedly that’s not such a huge number among 350 million, but nonetheless it’s a large number who believe people will bleed to death on the day Jesus returns, and believe every word in the Bible is holy writ.
Both films seem to suggest that that kind of unwavering belief is a very dangerous thing, but isn’t there also, in The Wicker Tree, some suggestion that Sir Lachlan doesn’t really believe in what he’s doing?
Like his relation – if he is a relation to Lord Summerisle, I’m ambivalent about that – he wants to carry on the show, as it were. And almost anything justifies that, including a return to the Celtic religion.
Some people have criticised, as if it were an intrusive subplot, the scene at the nuclear power station, but the Sun, as a sort of object of worship, has always seemed to me probably the most plausible thing, and really I think it does fit in with the rest.
Maybe we question his beliefs because it seems so unusual, in a contemporary setting, to have someone who really strongly believes in an old religion.
At the time we made The Wicker Man, and really for the next two decades, I would’ve said that it was impossible that there would be a return to societies fighting each other for religious reasons, and yet look at what’s happened.
It seemed to have all gone away, but I think you can understand that there could be a society like the one at Thressock, or Summerisle, or in the States like the people in the Mormon religion, who have somehow accepted something that is against most contemporary technological or educational thought. It’s extraordinary, but it could happen.
I mean, there’s that terrible story about the Norwegian guy who killed all those young people, and he’d invented his own religion as a reason why he had to kill them. He had a sort of manifesto, which was really like his own gospel, about why it was necessary to do the sort of things he did. That’s obviously innate in human beings and it’s not such a bad thing to make a film about. They’re cautionary tales.
A whole Wicker Man trilogy has been talked about: are you still planning to make the third film?
Well, I was going to make it in Iceland, and then, you know, Iceland has had terrible problems financially and it’s become more and more impractical. So I decided since it’s the last film in a Scottish trilogy, I would make it in the Shetlands. They are very Scandinavian, and I have a very strong Scandinavian core of the story, in that it is about the Norse gods, rather than the Celtic ones. It’s based on the Norse saga, and of course on the Ring Cycle, by Wagner; it’s quite esoteric, but actually, it is, I hope, a romping good story of the gods getting their comeuppance a bit, rather than the humans.
The Wicker Tree is out on DVD and Blu-ray on 30 April 2012.