John Clare was a romantic-era nature poet and compulsive wanderer who wrote prolifically over a period of 70 years. His work was fuelled by a sense of looming madness which followed him throughout his life. Whilst many poets of the early 19th Century were considered gentlemen and dined at the highest tables, Clare came from modest means in Northamptonshire. Director Andrew Kötting and writer Iain Sinclair collaborated successfully on Swandown in 2011 and they collaborate again in the memorising and deranged experimental documentary By Our Selves.
By Our Selves recreates the four-day journey taken by Clare from Epping Forest Asylum to his home in Northamptonshire. Battling with fatigue, thirst, food and delusions, he documented his escape and return in his book Journey Out of Essex. Toby Jones plays Clare mutely whilst the poet is voiced by Jones’ father Freddie. He is joined on the journey by a straw man (representing his mental torment), Iain Sinclair, Alan Moore, Kötting and Dr Simon Kövesi.
A prolific writer, there’s been a resurgence of interest in the writings of the man dubbed as the ‘Peasant Poet’ of late. By Our Selves is in no way what you’d expect from a ‘standard’ documentary film. It’s an experimental piece which in many ways could be classed as art, doing great justice to the spirit of Clare. There’s great use of sound and visuals to represent Clare’s mental fragility and great insights from Kövesi and Moore. It’s refreshing to see this kind of approach to filmmaking, and with By Our Selves Kötting goes one better than Swandown.
By Our Selves is out in cinemas on Friday.