Monthly Archives: November 2022


A British film directed Robert Fuest, written by Brian Clemens and Terry Nation

I recently rediscovered this film – I remembered it being in black and white, but no, it’s in glorious technicolor. It’s a compelling psycho-thriller/horror, uncannily hypnotic, tapping into fears of being an outsider and unable to make oneself understood, and of being watched and followed by sinister strangers – but which one presents the real danger?

Two English nurses, Jane (Pamela Franklin) and Cathy (Michelle Dotrice) are on a cycling holiday in rural France. The landscape is flat, the road straight, the sky cloudless – a folk-horror setting, eerie and threatening even in bright daylight. The girls disagree – Cathy is finding their progress tedious and wants to meet people and have fun. Jane want to see more of the countryside. A young man on a scooter appears to be following them.

Cathy and Jane start their trip

There’s an argument; Jane leaves Cathy sunbathing at the edge of a wood beside the road and continues on her way. A while later, she waits at a roadside cafe (the ominously named “Store at the Bad Turn”) for her friend to catch up – but Cathy doesn’t appear.

The stage is set. We watch as Jane searches for her missing companion. The tension builds as she learns (with difficulty, as her French isn’t good) that there was a murder in the area some time ago. The language barrier contributes to the air of menace; there are no subtitles provided, so when the local characters are speaking French, understanding isn’t complete – like Jane, we’re confused and can’t make sense of what is happening. As in all effective thrillers, each person she meets could be a suspect – the young man following the girls, the café proprietor and his wife, the distant figure in the fields, the English woman in the car.

What gives the film it’s uncanny quality?

It’s the mood of open-air claustrophobia; the landscape is wide and empty but at the same time restrictive and threatening. Despite all the apparent movement – Jane shifts between the hotel, the wood, the police station and the roadside café, back and forth, by bicycle on her own, on the scooter with Paul, in the car with the English woman and again on her own, running from the wood – she is confined to the same stretch of road, tracing and retracing her steps, watched from afar by the sinister old farm labourer. Eventually, we lose our bearings; which way is she going and to what end?

Motifs and themes recur. The music playing over the opening credits is repeated on Cathy’s transistor radio when she is sunbathing in the woods. The first shot of the film, of the girls cycling along the road, is repeated in the last shot, when another two cyclists appear on the same road, pedalling into the same danger. Jane is repeatedly told by different characters to “stay here, wait for me here”. She asks the café proprietor to speak more slowly, and in turn she is asked the same by the policeman. Cars repeatedly speed along the road, and they might offer a way of escape, but no.

The final scenes crank up the tension, increasing Jane’s sense of dread and isolation. We know it’s not going to end happily. And it doesn’t.


Of all the images of the Queen published following her recent death, one caught my attention in particular – a photograph taken by Annie Leibovitz in 2007. It shows the Queen in full Garter Robes and diamond tiara in the White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace.

The composition is unusual. The seated figure fills approximately an eighth of the frame, in the bottom right hand corner. Bright sunlight streams into the room from a window on the Queen’s left, highlighting her silver hair and diamond tiara, her rich robes and chains of office. It’s a portrait designed to reinforce the power and authority of the monarchy, and the setting certainly complements that intention. The room is elegant, lavishly furnished with red and gold brocaded chairs and settees. The carpet is richly patterned, the walls are adorned with decorated pilasters, mirrors reflect and re-double the splendour, and the chandeliers drip crystal teardrops.

But on the far wall behind the Queen, a huge doorway opens a dark interior. The details of the next room can’t be seen clearly, but it creates an uneasy absence in the centre of the picture, making the room appear uncomfortable and insecure, and despite all the chairs, I don’t think I would like to sit in there for too long. Or go through the central door.

The reproduction of the photograph I was looking at wasn’t a good one, so I went online to find a copy that I could examine in detail. Here’s an image that allows just that:

But something strange is going on. I didn’t notice at first that the Queen is not alone. In the far left corner of the room, a woman stands behind a chair, and she looks uncannily like Elizabeth as a much younger woman. The same figure, the same hairstyle, and around her neck the pearls the Queen always favoured. Stranger, the woman is standing in front of a large mirror, but her back isn’t reflected.

There’s another odd thing – the mirror behind the woman reflects a light source from a window which should be on the left wall, opposite the window where the Queen sits on the right – but the light doesn’t reach the space in the left foreground of the image. The way the mirror reflects the room creates an unstable image, as the eye alternates between seeing it as a mirror and as an opening through the wall to the room beyond.

And finally, and most creepily, there are two dark-suited men just discernible in the mirrors, one each side of the doorway. The one on the left must be standing against the left wall – but he’s not in the “real” space of the image. The other seems to be directly behind the viewer of the portrait – that’s us. Don’t turn around, but is he there now?