Monday, July 18, 2022

I Watch TV: The Witchfinder

The Witchfinder

It’s the 17th century and in Eastern England there’s civil war, religious unrest and hunts for witches. Women accused of sorcery are subjected to peculiar and horrible trials and hung, or occasionally burned. Ambitious men compete to be witchfinders, no matter the rights and wrongs of the case.

It’s a comedy!

It’s the sort of comedy where people argue the toss about things, which is a problem for a witchfinder, but not an unsurmountable one for the unscrupulous or fanatical. Our hero Gideon Bannister, is prosecuting Thomasine Gooch for sorcery against a pig when John Stern, the right hand man of Mathew Hopkins, the witchfinder general, is found dead. He decides to go to Cheltenham with the news in the hope of getting advancement. They pass through various comic-horrible setpieces, such as Dedham Vale (real) where they burn accused witches without trial, and anyone else who isn’t godly, forcing Gideon and Thomasine to pretend to be married.

It's perhaps at it’s funniest when things slide imperceptibly between Early-Modern and 21st-Century framing of the scene, when the farce that is then turns into the farce that is now. Does it have anything to say apart from witchfinding is bad? Maybe not.

Watch This: For some banter and jokes about the civil war and fanaticism
Don’t Watch This: Actually what’s going on isn’t very funny if you think about it

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