ZENNOR IN DARKNESS
by Helen Dunmore
Director Rupert Edwards
Screenplay Simon Reade
Cornwall. Spring 1917. The never-ending, blood-draining war haunts the nation. Its tentacles of death and destruction have reached as far as Zennor beyond St Ives, on the very tip of Cornish coast. Fear and suspicion are never far from the surface – U-boats are a constant threat and the locals regard any strangers with unwelcoming dismay.
For CLARE COYNE - beautiful, sensual and creative - it is a time of conflicting emotions. Barely in her 20s, she is a local, but she is also different. Her dead mother conferred on her her Cornishness, but her father, FRANCIS COYNE, has also given her certain airs and graces. She wants to be an artist.
Francis is a bitter man whose life has steadily declined since the death of Clare’s mother. He feels himself above the coarseness of the locals, his perceived position in local society higher than the fisherman and farmers and drapers. But it also confers an isolation.
The sunniness of Clare attracts isolated men – while out on a painting trip she is accosted by DH LAWRENCE. She pretends otherwise, but like the entire community, she knows exactly who he is.
He has taken a small farmstead in the hard lands above the village, where he has escaped from London with his eccentric German wife, FRIEDA. He is there for a variety of reasons: still licking his wounds after the rejection of his latest novel, ‘The Rainbow’; in the hope that other creatives will join him in building a commune but mostly to get away from war-hungry and war-obsessed London.
DH Lawrence is an outspoken critic of the war. He is horrified and repulsed by it as much as he is enchanted and fascinated by Clare Coyne, not least because he feels Frieda is in need of female company.
For Clare, DH Lawrence represents a thrilling creative world far away from Cornwall that she is beginning to realise she would love to inhabit. In a moment of bravery she asks if she can paint him and then feels she must agree to visit him and Frieda – and a kind of friendship begins.
JOHN-WILLIAM TREVEAL is the third isolated man in Clare’s orbit. He is her cousin and her beau, forced to leave for the Western Front before their love can blossom. He returns to Zennor a disturbed man.
Only Lawrence can see the true depth of the damage in John-William. Clare is too overwhelmed by her desire for him to notice anything untoward. They escape from the clamour of family and friends to make love on the moon-lit beach, but all too soon he must return to the war effort, to officer training. Clare believes this to be a miraculous escape: he will be out of the trenches for three months.
Initially thinking it good for Clare to mix with literary types, Francis becomes increasingly averse to her friendship with the Lawrences, believing it to threaten her downfall. What he and local society fail to realise until it is too late, is that there is more danger in Clare’s relationship with John-William, by whom she is pregnant.
The Lawrences’ relationship is also under strain – the whispering about Frieda’s nationality is becoming a clamour and she is accused of signalling to the prowling U-boats. DH Lawrence’s anti-war stance is not endearing him either, even though many of the locals are doing whatever they can to keep their men away from the war.
Clare’s relationship with Francis is splintering. He is unable to engage with her, even though she seeks his paternal love. Now, in her pregnancy, she turns from him towards her local relations.
But then her life is shattered by the news that John Williams is dead. Not in the trenches, but in the officer training camp where all imagined he would be safe. As a man more worldly than others in the village, Francis takes it upon himself to seek out the truth of John William’s death.
He travels to the camp where he is fobbed off by the military. But he toughs it out and discovers that John Williams shot himself while suffering from shell-shock. A fact he reports graphically to Clare who is horrified by the truth – they agree to keep it a secret from everyone else.
When Francis eventually discovers Clare’s pregnancy, he is persuaded by the local vicar - who spied on Lawrence and Clare when they went for a walk to see the Zennor Mermaid carved into the church pew - that the child is Lawrence’s. The locals may know better, but it doesn’t stop Francis writing a letter to the authorities about his ‘suspicions’ of the alien Lawrences.
This leads in turn to their expulsion from Zennor by the authorities. Only Clare among the locals is sad to see them go. She is determined to follow the Lawrences out of Zennor, using her art as a means to escape.
DH Lawrence has given her the vision and more importantly the belief in her talent and herself to break free from the darkness of Zennor and into the light.