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Eric Ravilious: Drawn to War

lovingly crafted, poignant and surprisingly intensely intimate documentary

★★★★ - STUFF 

- Now celebrated as one of Britain’s greatest painters, Eric Ravilious and his work was all but forgotten in the second-half of the 20th Century

Now celebrated as one of Britain’s greatest painters, Eric Ravilious and his works were all but forgotten in the second-half of the 20th Century.Many of his creations had been casualties of World War II, while those that survived were apparently hidden under a bed for four decades, until discovered by his children.

But as this lovingly crafted, poignant and surprisingly intensely intimate documentary demonstrates, Ravilious was an acclaimed wood engraver and water colourist (“I can’t stand oils, it’s like using toothpaste,” he once wrote) whose depictions of landscapes and “basic subject matter” (as 21st century artist and cultural commentator Grayson Perry puts it) mixed an idyll with a sense of foreboding and menace.

“You can almost smell the damp,” Perry says of one of Ravilious’ interiors, while playwright Alan Bennett details why his depiction of England was not as “cosy” as might first seem. Noting the slightly ominous absence of people in Ravilious’ famous 1938 painting Tea at Furlongs, Bennett half jokes that it should have been called “Munich, 1938”.

As detailed through the letters and diary entries of both Ravilious and fellow artist and wife Terza Garwood (brought to evocative life here by the dulcet tones of Freddie Fox and Tamsin Greig) that provide the voice and soul of director Margy Kinmonth’s narrative, the threat of a second European conflict was something that had preoccupied him since sensing the “chill of fear” as he watched Mussolini’s “black shirts” prowling the streets of Florence while on a scholarship there in 1925.

Tutored in the “tricks and techniques” of being a war artist at the Royal College of Art’s design school by Paul Nash (who filled such a role during World War I), his burgeoning reputation throughout the 1930s saw him earn a commission from the government-created War Artists Advisory Committee just months after World War II did break out in September 1939.

The “honour” came with a position as a Captain in the Royal Marines – and, even more attractively, a salary.

Despite his assurances to Terza that “only the weather” posed any danger to him, she was rightly concerned as he joined naval, submarine and airforce crews, while she looked after their three children on an isolated Essex farm.

Through the pair’s correspondence and individual private observations, as well as commentary from their daughter, granddaughter and the likes of Perry, Bennett and Ai Weiwei, Kinmonth creates a colourful portrait that doesn’t shy away from the darker moments of Ravilious’ life. Drawn to War details his infidelities and fears, as much as his successes, although the visual metaphors, allusions and segues Kinmonth uses occasionally feel a little heavy-handed.

Still, it’s an absorbing, enlightening watch (who knew that he created one of cricket’s most iconic images?) that’s likely to win Ravilious an army of new admirers.

- James Croot, STUFF

Eric Ravilious: Drawn to War is now playing at Light House Cinema! 


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