Film is a reminder that we've lost something from the past

PUBLISHED: 18:47 27 August 2019 | UPDATED: 18:47 27 August 2019

A scene from classic East Anglian film Akenfield which left James wondering if we are starting to miss some of the simplicity of times past

A scene from classic East Anglian film Akenfield which left James wondering if we are starting to miss some of the simplicity of times past


A snapshot of the past has made James Marston think about how much better times were in the pre-digital age

As many of you know I live in east Suffolk - the hinterland of the heritage coast as I call it - in a beautiful part of our region surrounded by open spaces, areas of woodland and farming fields.

While I've lived in cities and abroad on and off for many years, I sometimes think village life, in our region, has much to commend it. And what I quite enjoy about the rural and semi-rural life many of us live is the connection we have with the seasons.

Not least because the seasons are so obvious when you live in the country, the land changes as the farming year rolls by - I'm currently surrounded by what I suspect is a second crop of 
oil seed rape - and it is in the countryside I think you can smell the change of season in the air. In the spring I wait for the cuckoo, at this time of year I'm waiting for the dying ember of summer to turn into the mellow autumn, and there's always a moment that it comes. The air changes somehow. It's lovely.

This week I went to the cinema in Aldeburgh this week to see Akenfield, a film spanning the story of three generations of a Suffolk family from around the First World War until the early 1970s.

What interested me was not so much the memory of the backgrounds and lives lived of those men who fought the Great War but the window it gives us into the world of the late 1960s and early 1970s when it was written and filmed.

The story focuses on a young man keen to get out of the county and escape the agricultural life and life in a tied cottage of his forefathers.

The film itself, which is beautifully shot and uses the changing countryside as almost a secondary character, is a cult classic that captures the last vestiges of a East Anglian 
rural reality which disappeared in the decades after the guns fell silent. Yet Akenfield itself 
gives a gritty insight into our region of just 50 years ago when the film was made.

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Fifty years ago was still a world where deference to the local landowner was, to our modern eyes, still deeply ingrained - although these days we lionize celebrity instead. It was a world where people lived in run-down cottages which today attract premium prices. The internet didn't exist. People didn't commute far. Communications were less about technology than actually talking and listening. Families ate together and lived together across the generations. People had, it seems, much less in terms of material possessions and, indeed, life choices.

The late 1960s and early 1970s look very different to today. But, of course, what also struck me was that however much as life changes, it stays the same.

People have very similar concerns across the generations. Where will we live? What will I do? What world are we bringing up our children in? How will I manage in old age?

The pressures and worries of life then aren't that dissimilar to what they are now. Of course in 50 years' time, Akenfield will look different again and perceptions will change once more.

It is not even the most uplifting of films, but it has stuck with me all week. Not least because of the landscape - now even more intensively farmed than ever - remains a backdrop to the lives of many of us, it's just that we don't seem to get time to look.

I suppose the other thing 
the film shows, in its small exchanges, it's passing of the time of day, and in the interconnectivity of the lives depicted in it, the extent to which people seemed to have more time and respect for each other.

Akenfield might be elegiac in tone and I don't think anyone would want to go back to life in the early 1970s and let's not 
forget that communities 
often do remain strong in our villages. But over the last 50 years our lives have undeniably changed, we have probably have more money and more wealth than ever.

But that night at the cinema made me stop and think and I can't help wondering that despite the progress we've lost something along the way.

Have you seen Akenfield? Is James right? What do you think? Write to James at

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