Derek Jarman’s “Broken English”: Full of dark pagan ritual, sex, violence, romance, adoration, and mystery

By on December 29, 2015

On the occasion of Marianne Faithfull’s 69th birthday — she was born Marian Evelyn Faithfull on December 29, 1946, in Hampstead, London, England — we thought we’d share Derek Jarman’s 12-minute short film from 1979, named for her highly-acclaimed tour de force Broken English, a critically-lauded comeback album for Faithfull released in 1979 after a long period of commercial absence.


The complete film is comprised of three videos of Faithfull’s songs — “Witches Song,” “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan,” and the title song, which took inspiration from terrorist figures of the time, particularly Ulrike Meinhof of the Baader-Meinhof group — was made by Jarman in the late 70s, at a time in which he turned to music video work in order to continue paying the bills. Broken English was his first in the newly emergent genre, followed in the early 80s by videos he directed for Lords of the New Church, Wang Chung, Marc Almond and others.

Marianne Faithfull, writing about her album Broken English — released by Island Records in October 1979 — in her autobiography referred to it as “the masterpiece.”


Writing for Candlelight Stories, filmmaker Alessandro Cima writes:

“This might be the most beautiful film you will see all year. It is the full version of ‘Broken English,’ starring Marianne Faithfull. It was made by Derek Jarman. It incorporates three of Faithfull’s songs. Jarman learned a great deal from American avant-garde filmmaker, Kenneth Anger. Interestingly, Marianne Faithfull also starred in an Anger film called Lucifer Rising. The montage and superimposition going on in this film is simply stunning. It’s full of dark pagan ritual, sex, violence, romance, adoration, and mystery. I think Jarman is one of the very few filmmakers who understood what Anger was doing in his work and tried to carry on from there.”


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.