Tanya Gold Tanya Gold

Petrol, seawater and blood: the horror of Cornwall

Tanya Gold talks to cult director Mark Jenkin about Enys Men

In its relative silence, all the true Cornwalls collide. Credit: Steve Tanner

Penwith isn’t an island, but it feels like one. The heathland above the cliffs is filled with mine workings and Iron and Bronze Age relics: menhirs, fogous and quoits. To most visitors Cornwall is as simple as the GWR posters: gaudy pastels, happy children, ice cream. This Cornwall exists for six weeks in the summer holidays, the setting for a visitor’s bourgeois childhood – Enid Blyton’s Cornwall, principally – but it’s not the essential one. There are multiple real Cornwalls, and they have nothing to do with the tourist aesthetic, which the visitors bring with them. In this spirit, Cornwall’s famous writers are usually from outside: Virginia Woolf (Kensington); Daphne du Maurier (Hampstead); John le Carré (Dorset). Its cinema and television, meanwhile, have tended to the ludicrous (Wycliffe), twee (Doc Martin, Archipelago) or offensive (Straw Dogs, a Cornish Deliverance set in St Buryan with Dustin Hoffman as a naïf tortured by murderous local roofers). I can’t bear to describe the terrible travelogues. Cornwall is a repository for other people’s imaginings and on the Isles of Scilly day-trippers walk on ancient graves.

The Newlyn-based film-maker Mark Jenkin offers another interpretation of Cornwall. Newlyn is no ordinary fishing village: unlike neighbouring Mousehole, it has not succumbed to gentrification. You can still get beaten up here, and gift shops survive a season before closing; there’s no market for them. The shadows round the Star Inn, a bewitching pub opposite the fish market, are deep.

There are multiple real Cornwalls, and they have nothing to do with the tourist aesthetic

Jenkin is part of a growing Cornish film industry centred on Falmouth University’s School of Film and Television and the producer Denzil Monk. His debut was Bait (2019), a story about the tensions between incomers and locals in an unnamed fishing village we can only presume is Mousehole.

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