By 1959 Ingmar Bergman had become the most popular arthouse director in London with no fewer
than ten films screening across the capital. The appeal of this remarkably prolific Swedish filmmaker,
whose international reputation was forged at the festivals of Cannes and Venice, rested on his
distinctive directorial style and the tackling of fundamental themes of love, death and religion. He
became the quintessential ‘auteur’, admired for his artistic independence and personal control over
the film making process from conception to final editing.
The West End first run art cinemas, especially the Academy in Oxford Street, encouraged the new
vogue for Bergman in the late 1950s and early 1960s with screenings which included The Seventh
Seal, Wild Strawberries, So Close to Life and The Virgin Spring. But it was the Everyman, with its
repertory screenings of revivals and its tradition of curating seasons, which became the regular
destination for Bergmanophiles who wanted to catch up with his films, both old and new, in order to
have the pleasure of appreciating his works as a whole.
In 1959 The Everyman put on a Bergman season consisting of four films Sawdust and Tinsel, Smiles
of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal and Frenzy. Thus began the long love affair between audiences
at the Everyman and Ingmar Bergman. These four films had been introduced to Londoners by the
Academy starting as early as 1946 with Alf Sjoberg’s Frenzy, written by the young Bergman. Sawdust
and Tinsel and Smiles of a Summer Night, shown in 1955 and 1956 respectively, did not make a huge
impact but The Seventh Seal which premiered at the Academy and ran for four months in 1958 was a
big hit. Set in the Middle Ages at a time of plague it tells the story of a knight who challenged Death
to a game of chess to save himself and his friends. Tackling the universal themes of sex, death and
religion the film also spoke to contemporary anxieties, with some reviewers, like Dilys Powell of the
Sunday Times, referring to the H Bomb. This film captured the imagination of English audiences and
set off a wave of enthusiasm labelled at the time as Bergmania.
The Bergman seasons fast became a part of the cinema’s identity, with much bigger seasons of 12
films in 1960 and 1961. In February 1962 the programme proudly announced a new 13 film season
of all the Bergmans available in England starting with the London premieres of two early films, each
running for two weeks, Night is my Future made in 1947 and The Devil’s Wanton made in 1948.
These premieres were followed in March and April by Port of Call, Summer Interlude, Waiting
Women, Summer with Monika, A Lesson in Love, Journey into Autumn, Smiles of a Summer Night,
The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, So Close to Life and The Face.
Bergman’s films offered a sense of sexual freedom, already associated with continental, especially
Swedish, films. Many of his films were X certificated and even so, some were cut. However, at a time
when prudery and censorship still prevailed, foreign art films often managed to get away with
scenes of sex or violence that would not be tolerated in home produced mainstream films. Summer
with Monika, for example, made in 1953, concerned a girl who spends a Summer of love with her
young lover only to desert him once they are married. Played by nubile new star Harriet Anderson
the character in the film displayed the hitherto taboo casual looks and unconventional behaviour
which spoke directly to the new 1950s generation.
Bergman seasons continued in 1964 and 1967. Then, in 1971, when Fairfax-Jones was becoming ill,
he asked Adrian Turner, the manager/programmer if it was time to do Bergman again. Turner recalls
that the season he organised called Bergman Revisited was the biggest the Everyman had ever done.
Bergmania at the Everyman continued through the 1970s, culminating in a seventeen film season in
1977 which included more recent works like Cries and Whispers, The Magic Flute and Scenes from a
Bergman never went out of fashion at the Everyman. His new films of the late 1970s and 1980s like
Autumn Sonata and Fanny and Alexander appeared on the programme, whilst his older films
continued to be shown in the popular matinee double bills on a Sunday afternoon. For example, in
1983 and Summer with Monika with Smiles of a Summer Night. And Hour of the Wolf was paired
Before the coming of video, independent cinemas were the only source of films, both early and late,
of the great ‘auteur’ directors. The Everyman seasons and other screenings which offered a
’Bergman education’ were very well attended despite the fact that most of the prints were
apparently over-used and in a poor state. Nevertheless, all these years later, people recall their
experiences of Bergman at the Everyman with affection.