"The mistletoe hung in the castle hall,
The holly branch shone on the old oak wall...”
Here’s a spooky little tale for Christmas Eve. It’s The Mistletoe Bough, a fabulous silent film from 1904, recently recovered from the dusty vaults of the excellent BFI, and restored to glory with a new soundtrack by Peter Wigg from the 90’s band Saint Etienne. You can watch it for free on the BFI player by clicking this link.
The Mistletoe Bough, director Percy Stow, 1904 (BFI).
I’ve been fascinated by this legend for years: as an optimistic sproglet, barely out of shorts and bloody knees, I used to fish a charming little trout stream flowing through the grounds of the Old Minster Lovell Hall in Oxfordshire, one of the various ruined manor houses where the legend is supposed to have taken place.
The story first appeared in print in 1822 and resurfaced in the 1830’s as a song written by T.H.Bayley and Sir Henry Bishop. This version became wildly popular and apparently, “its solemn chanting” became a “national occurance at Christmas”. Cheery lot, those Victorians.
David Cox the Elder (1783-1859), The Mistletoe Bride, watercolour over pencil with bodycolour, scratching out and gum arabic.
For those of you who don’t know the legend, I’m not going to tell you what happens- you will just have to watch the BFI video to find out.
What’s this to do with food, I hear you cry? Not much. In fact, nothing at all. I wracked my brains for some tenuous culinary link which might appeal to the erudite readership of the Spoon, but couldn’t think of one.