BFI Classics: The Seventh Seal

Author: Melvyn Bragg

Melvyn Bragg’s essay on The Seventh Seal was originally published in 1993 and is showing its age. The present-tense references to the film’s late director, Ingmar Bergman, who died almost exactly four years ago, are jarring.

That, however, is a petty quibble. As you would expect from the presenter of The South Bank Show, Lord Bragg’s writing is accessible, chatty and very, very knowledgeable. His chapter entitled “On First Meeting Ingmar Bergman” contains the winning sentence, “Before the interview began he let out a fart-like snort and beamed.”

Unexpectedly, perhaps, Bragg strips the layers of impenetrability off The Seventh Seal and places it in the context of Bergman’s other work. You should lend this book to anyone who grunts at the mention of The Seventh Seal and says, “Yeah, but it’s just about death, innit?” It’s partly about death, but it’s mostly about living, the goodness to be found in humanity and Bergman’s worldview.

Working on shoe-string budget and in locations surprisingly close to, or in the midst of, built-up areas (Bergman delighted in pointing out that, during the witch-burning scene, it is possible to see apartment buildings through the trees if you look hard enough), Bergman crammed the whole shoot into 35 days. Bragg examines the screenplay’s origins as a stage play and the influence of radio plays to explain how the application of a linear approach to story telling made such a tight schedule feasible.

This is the next best thing to having Melvyn Bragg sit next to you while you watch The Seventh Seal, and is yet another winner from the BFI Classics series.

Clare Moody

Share this!