THE WICKER TREE
The Wicker Mans director Robin Hardy had a very sporadic career subsequently, having directed only one other film with the psycho-thriller The Fantasist (1986), as well as having written the script for the quasi-pagan film The Bull Dance/Forbidden Sun (1989). He returns to the directors chair here at age 82 after a twenty-five year absence from screens. He adapts The Wicker Tree from a novel he originally published as Cowboys for Christ (2006). Hardy died five years later and The Wicker Tree would be the last film he would ever make.
The Wicker Tree is sold as a sequel to The Wicker Man, although this is not quite the case. An elderly Christopher Lee briefly turns up in a flashback, bridging the gap between the two films, although it is never directly stated that this is the same character of Lord Summerisle that he played in The Wicker Man. Less so than it is a sequel, The Wicker Tree is more of an updating of and expansion on the themes of the conflict between Christianity and paganism that we saw in The Wicker Man. This is immediately apparent in the opening scenes where we see that Edward Woodwards dour Episcopalian sergeant has been replaced by Brittania Nichol as a perky popular gospel singer from Texas who proudly sports her chastity ring. This ingeniously spins the essential religious conflict of The Wicker Man into one between paganism and modern evangelical Christianity, which was a far more muted issue at the time the original film came out. Here in five minutes, Robin Hardy manages to spearhead the essential conflicts that ran through the original with far more clarity than Neil La Bute managed to do in the entire running time of the 2006 remake.
The difference between the two is in that The Wicker Tree plays the paganism of the villagers in a way where it assumes that audiences have seen the original and know what is going on. Thus Honeysuckle Weeks flirtation with Henry Garrett is much more knowing, we are far more aware of what is happening when the locals innocently persuade Brittania Nichol to try on the May Queen dress, and when they persuade she and Henry Garrett to take part in the ceremonies, we know exactly the end that all of this is heading towards. There is also much more of an emphasis on humour in this film than there was in The Wicker Man notably the scenes with Clive Russell preparing Brittania Nichols body for sacrifice and getting stabbed in the testicles or Honeysuckle Weeks and her sexual tryst with policeman Alessandro Conetta and there are times this element of humour becomes too broad and detracts from the sharpness of the story. Robin Hardy also makes pointed satiric contrast between the pursuit of the Laddie across the countryside (a Celtic tradition he has invented for the film) and the English tradition of the foxhunt. Particularly notable are the folk songs that have been written for the soundtrack, which have come with a commendable bawdiness including a striking piano number that manages to use fruit as a highly suggestive metaphor for sex.
In the end, The Wicker Tree is interesting, although it is not as incisive and sharp in what it does as The Wicker Man was. The division of Christianity and paganism starts well and is occasionally cleverly depicted. However, Robin Hardy portrays it more with amusement this time out and as a result dilutes the horrific effect that The Wicker Man built towards. Still there is an undeniable shock to the scene at the end where Henry Garrett is surrounded and devoured by the villagers in the castle, which is savagely contrasted with the use of a Christian hymn on the soundtrack about the blood of the lamb. There is also a somewhat different ending where Brittania Nichol refuses to go her fate as neatly as Edward Woodward did and stands up for herself.