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Witchcraze
BBC 2003
Witchcraze set out to accurately portray a particularly shameful period of Scottish history by documenting an event that was more shocking than anything that occurs in the 1968 film Witchfinder General which featured Vincent Price in the title role of Matthew Hopkins. The programme examined the story of the North Berwick witch trials of 1590-91, when 30 women and one man were hunted down, tortured, and eventually hanged or burnt at the stake.

Writer and producer Mark Hayhurst felt this was a strong story for a programme and approached the BBC with an idea to present the story in a drama-documentary style, akin to Peter Watkins' Culloden, with an unseen interviewer narrating the onscreen events.

This format helped some of the more graphic and brutal scenes to be shown, though the most notable outcome of the production is that it made history by being the first BBC programme ever to feature a certain four-letter swear word beginning with the letter c. According to a spokesman, the C-word was "medical vernacular" and was "used in contemporary documents by the Calvinist minister in the film".


Hayhurst based his script on three primary sources - Demonologie, a text written by King James himself detailing the case; Newes from Scotland, a newsletter to England written by Carmichael, detailing the outbreak of witchcraft north of Hadrian's Wall; and Sampson's confession, extracted after days of torture. Filming took place at locations in Edinburgh, the Lothians and Fife with Craigmillar Castle, used as the setting for scenes in the great hall, while Gosford House near Longniddry became the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Magdalen Chapel in the city’s Cowgate was used as St Giles’ Cathedral and Cupar in Fife was used for the scenes set in the village. The cliffs at St Abbs in East Lothian provided the backdrop for the graphic scenes of execution.

Mark Hayhurst explained to TV Plus shortly before the programme's transmission his motivation: "I wanted to shock. I wanted to jolt viewers out of their complacency. I would say there are parallels with the witch-hunt then and what's happening now. We've had people... paraded round before they've even been convicted of any crime. The danger is people in power using the mob to push their own agenda."

Hayhurst has continued to work in the docudrama field with If...We Could Stop The Voilence an episode of the speculative BC 2 series If... and the recent Channel four production The Year London Blew Up: 1974.

Witchcraze was powerfully acted and directed but failed to ignite much of reaction in either the audience or critics
, but served the purpose well of bringing to life one of the Christianity's most fanatical and shameful eras.


Characters
Portrayed By
Agnes Sampson
Cathleen McCarron
James Carmichael
Ewan Stewart
King James VI
Jimmy Harrison
Lord Bothwell
Cas Harkind
John Fian
Chris Young
Robert Bruce
Iain Agnew

The programme was written and produced by Mark Hayhurst. Executive producer Edmund Coulthard. .

Text © Andrew Screen, 2005.

Witchcraze
TX : 29th January 2003
Director : James Kent
Script : Mark Hayhurst

Publicity : In the two years from 1589 and 1591, hundreds of women in Edinburgh and East Lothian were slaughtered, in what was the bloodiest witch-hunt in British history. Any study of such barbarism is bound to be grim viewing, and the dramatic reconstruction of torture scenes - based on contemporary writings - is, inevitably, sickening. But this film is particularly arduous because it is shot reportage-style, as if by a documentary crew, while the narrator dispassionately drecribes events. Watch only if you have a strong stomach. (Radio Times, August 30, 2003).




Synopsis :
The bloodiest witch-hunt in British history is investigated this evening. The East Lothian witchcraze that began in the winter of 1589 led to the incarceration of 300 and the execution of many more. Based on original documents, the docudrama re-enacts events as if they were being covered by a film creew at the time.

Notes :
The programme was originally transmitted on a Wednesday evening between 9:00pm and 10:00pm on BBC 2.