Tarka the Otter (1979) - full transcript

A family movie which follows the life of a real otter and its adventures in the wild.

[Rank gong]

[hunting horn calls]

[pounding drumbeat]

[hounds barking]

[urgent, dramatic music]

[theme music]

[horses' hooves clopping]

[croaking in different tones]

[buzzard calling]


[narration] It is in the country
of the Two Rivers,

where the River Taw and her sister,
the Torridge

wind lazily through the
North Devonshire countryside,

that the strange story of Tarka
the otter begins.

Here, where Canal Bridge spans
the River Torridge,

the animals that make up
Tarka the otter's world

are to be found.

[heron's call echoes]

To Canal Bridge every evening
comes Old Nog,

wisest heron of the Two Rivers,
to spear fish for a living.

In the right-hand arch of the bridge that
once carried a canal across the river,

roosts Eldrich, the white owl.

Throughout the day he stands among
the bones and skulls of mice,

watching the river.

For generations, the dry cave
behind the barrier of roots

has been used as a
sleeping place for otters.

Instinct had drawn the otter
to her birthplace

to make a special couch of
oak leaves and reeds.

The hollow tree shared by owl and otter
was known as Owlery Holt.

[playful music]


The otter's attention turned
from the owl.

She was using all her senses
to find enemies.

[birds chirping]

Drifting down the river was the taint
most dreaded by otters...

the scent of Deadlock.

[drum pounds;
distorted barks and howls]

Deadlock was master of the pack.

In his veins ran the blood of wolves.

He had an insatiable lust for otters,

and he was always to be found
ahead of the hunt.

[Deadlock growls;
otter and bird call in alarm]

[pack yelping and huntsmen shouting]

Must be a bitch in cub, Master.

This is where the hounds marked
last month.

Yes, I remember.

Let her be, and move on downstream.

Pull Deadlock out, Tommy.

Deadlock! Deadlock!
Come on, Deadlock. Leave it.

Come on. Leave it, Deadlock.

Go on away.

[hunting horn calls]

The otter's heart slowed.

She forgot quickly.

Now the bees slept, and voles
ran through the grass.


[bird chirping in alarm]

The bitch otter made no move
to leave the holt.

She lay on her side, in pain,
and a little scared.

While she waited to give birth,

the song of the river stole into the holt
and soothed her.

[gentle music]

Now the otter needed no comfort,
for nestling in the curve of her neck

was a head smaller than
one of her own paws.

The cub's name was Tarka,

which means "little water wanderer".

[alarmed chirping]

All night long, Bloody Bill Brock,
the badger, had prowled and hunted.

He hastened in his waddling run,
being hungry.

He was always hungry.

He would eat anything.

[tense rhythmic plucking of strings]

[badger growls]

[heron calls]

[badger panting]

[feeble squeaking]

[frightened squealing and chirping]

[sombre melody]

The bitch otter forgot her fright,

as she pulled Tarka into
the safety of her body again.

She was careful that Tarka
should be clean,

and many times in the nights and days
of his blind helplessness,

she rolled on her back to lick him.

[gentle harmonica theme]

[Tarka chatters softly]

[serene music]


Early one morning, when the rising sun
silvered the mist lying over the river,

the dog otter with whom Tarka's mother
had mated nearly nine weeks before

followed her scent to the island
above the holt.

[dog otter whistles]

[calls continue]

[soft, warbling squeaks]

[joyful, exuberant music]

It was an old game the otters played,
corkscrewing through the water,

turning on their backs with sideways
sweeps of rudders.

It gave them delight,
and made them hungry.

[heron squawks]

[Tarka warbles and squeals excitedly]

Before the coming of her cub,
the otter's world had been a wilderness.

But now, her world was in
the eyes of her first born.

She was overjoyed when Tarka's lids
unsealed, and his eyes peeped upon her,

blue, and wondering.

He was then three weeks old.

[gentle harmonica theme]

The daylight at the opening of the holt
held no fear for Tarka.

When he was six weeks old,

he peered out on the outside world
for the first time.

[bird calling]

Each day, Tarka ventured
further and further from the holt

and learned something new.

[playful music]

[music pauses]

[tense percussion]

[playful music continues]

[music pauses;
alarmed warbling]

[suspenseful music]

[alarmed warbling]

He heard for the first time
the ancient song of the river,

and yearned to get nearer to it.

[Tarka whistles]

[distressed warbling and whistling]

May and June and July were past.

Time flowed with the sunlight
around Owlery Holt.

Tarka was now three months old.

He had been taught to fish, and
was now ever-alert to danger.

[distant cuckoo calls]

[hunting horn calls]

[menacing drumroll]

[hunting horn calls]

[otter whistles]

Tarka's father was being hunted,

and was looking for sanctuary
in Owlery Holt.

[hounds barking and yelping]

In her overriding desire to
protect Tarka,

the bitch otter snapped at her mate,
and drove him off.

[huntsmen shouting]

[urgent music]

[growling, otters squealing]

[huntsman] Do you think he found one?

[Deadlock growls]

[Tommy] Go on, Deadlock! Go on..!

[narration] Then, Tarka heard the cry
which to many otters

meant that all their efforts to escape
had been in vain.

Tally ho!


[hunting horn calls]

[huntsmen shouting, hounds barking]

[hunting horn calls]

- [narration] The sounds slowed, and ceased.
- [man] They've got him! They've got him!

They broke out again,
and slowed away into silence.

Tarka's father was dead.

[sound of hunting horn recedes]

[soft chattering]

[gentle music]

Beam Weir.

August and September
slid into October.

Out of the foamy spate,
a silvery flicker shook...

and vanished.

[staccato notes]

That night, when Tarka and his mother
had followed the salmon

to the tail of the weir pool,
an ominous sound disturbed them.

[heavy footfalls]

[man] Shh. Can you see anyone?


[suspenseful music]

- All right?
- It's clear. Light the flare.


- There's one.
- I can see it.

Careful, now. Steady.

Got him.

What the hell's that comin' up there?

Otter. Let's get the fish off, quick!


- The bloody thing's bit me! Argh!
- Not so much noise!

- [pained groaning]
- You'll have the bailiffs on us in a minute!

- Ah! It's bleeding.
- Come on, let's get out of here.

It's only your damn finger,
not your head, ain't it?

[mischievous music]

[Tarka squeaks]

[serene music]

[narration] Yellow from ash and elm
and willow,

buff from oak, rusty-brown from chestnut,
scarlet from bramble...

The waters bore away the
first coloured leaves of the year.


[pelt of heavy rain]

The thunderstorm roused eels from
the bottoms of ponds and lakes,

dykes and ditches and drains,

where they had hibernated during
the summer.

They were the females, urged seawards
by a common desire

to journey to their spawning beds
across the Atlantic,

far underneath the floating weeds
of the Sargasso Sea.

[abrasive, discordant music]

The eels were devourers of the
eggs of salmon and trout,

and the otters were devourers of eels.

[urgent, dramatic music]

Although otters rid the rivers of eels,

the landowners took no note of this,

and decreed that otters be treated
as vermin.

[faint metallic clank]

[muted drumbeats]

[otter calls in alarm]

[menacing music]

[dog growls and barks]

[music intensifies]

[gunshot; crows cawing]

[Tarka whistles]

[bell tolls]

[Tarka whistles]

[soft whistling and chattering]

[bell tolls]

Tarka was alone.

A young male of a ferocious but
persecuted tribe.

The tribe's only friends, except the spirit
that made it, were its enemies...

the otter hunters.

While the eels were migrating, Tarka
found his food easily.

The more he killed, the more
he wanted to Kill,

and he feasted on them until
his jaws were tired.

As Tarka left Canal Bridge,
so his cub-hood ended.

Now, indeed, did his name fit his life,

for he was a wanderer, and homeless.

[church bell tolls]

[harmonica theme]

[car horn blares]

At Bideford, the noise of traffic
frightened him,

but hunger overcame his fear.

[first woman] - What'd you do then, Molly?
- [second woman] I said to him, I said,

"Well, if you come round again,
I'll give you what for!"

Oh, Molly, you never!
- [horses' hooves clopping]

[gulls crying]

[narration] Six hours later
he was at the estuary,

where the waters of the Two Rivers meet.

[playful harmonica music]

[cacophony of bird calls]

The estuary was a new world to Tarka,
with new sights and sounds.

A new world in which every
nook and cranny had to be explored

to satisfy an otter's singular curiosity.

[lively music]

The taste of the unfamiliar salt water
sharpened Tarka's appetite.

[rattling percussion]

In the days that followed,
Tarka learned how to eat crabs,

cracking them with his teeth to
set loose the flesh within.

[calls of geese]

The heron and owl had been
Tarka's friends in his early life.

Now the brent goose was ever-alert to
danger, and ready to cry alarm.

[massed calls of geese]

[fisherman] Pull harder!
Come on, Shiner!

[narration] The salmon fishermen
hated otters,

Shiner in particular,

for it was his finger that Tarka had
bitten two months earlier.

[ominous music]

[fisherman] You got the boat there, Shiner?
Give me that net.

There's that otter out there, Shiner.

We'll have him.
We'll get a few bob for his skin.

You save your breath for haulin', you,
Shiner. Save your breath for haulin'.

[narration] The arc of net set to catch salmon
grew smaller and smaller

as it was relentlessly gathered in.

[fisherman] Come on, lads!

- [narration] Tarka was trapped.
- We got him... Quick!

Desperately, Tarka searched for
a way out.

[Tarka whistles]

[fisherman] Hey, hey!

Afterwards, Tarka travelled to
where the long Atlantic rollers,

driven by December gales,

incessantly pound the north side of
the estuary at Saunton Sands.

[wind howling]

To the great warren in the sand hills
came Tarka, to hunt for rabbits.

[Tarka whistles]

[quietly menacing music]

- Here, look, there's one over there.
- Yeah.

[narration] Tarka heard the voices of men,
and from the opening of the burrow

saw two rabbit-catchers heading down
the sand hills to the warren.

What were you telling me about
down the market then?

Butcher said, fast as you can kill 'em
I can sell 'em, m'dear.

- Oh, ah?
- This hole will do.

I got three or four 'ere last week.

- Go and till they nets, Tom.
- Yes.

- Be ready to shoot 'em, my dear.
- I'll kill ‘em all right, don't you worry.

[gulls crying]

[bell tinkling]

[narration] The ferret's rank smell and
its tinkling bell disturbed Tarka.

Oh, come on!
They come out quicker before.

Why're you muckin' about?
There are none there.


[Tarka warbles]

Don't point that thing at me!

[Tarka warbles]

[gunshots; Tarka squeals]

- Damn it all!
-'Ere, Tom!

You're bloody mazed!

Don't waste your cartridges on that thing,
we're after rabbits.

Tarka did not stop until he reached
the sanctuary of Ram's Horn Pond,

a mile away.

[swan hisses]

To the annoyance of the swans,
he hunted the waters of the pond.

[distant thunder]

A blown grey rain heralded
the onset of winter.

Instinct moved Tarka to make
a warm couch

in a clump of rushes beneath a
bramble thicket.


[wings beating]

[wading birds call]

[plaintive music]

During his wanderings in the
creeks behind the pond,

the scent of another otter attracted him.

He heard an otter's whistle, and
a feeling of joy warmed his being.

[drum beating and
orchestral flourish]

Whitetip was her name, and she was
the same age as Tarka.

Tarka's emotions were as intense
as they were quick.

He was in love with Whitetip.

[brisk, joyful music]

But a big dog otter also wanted
Whitetip as his mate.

[dramatic music]

[both squealing and whistling]

[quiet whistling]

Tarka was so frightened that he ran away

back to the safety of Ram's Horn Pond,
his ardour dampened.

[icy, chiming notes]

The icicle spirit had arrived,

and for two days and nights,
the frosty vapour lay over the estuary.

No power could exorcise it.

[comical music]

[geese calling]

[wind whistling]

Out of the blizzard had dropped
a herd of wild swans

and a strange, thick-set bird:
an Arctic owl.

Mile after mile, its soft and silent wings
had carried it from the frozen land

of the Northern Lights.

[wind howling]

For two days, Tarka did not venture
from his warm couch

until hunger forced him to set out
in search of food.

[bleak music]


[wind howling]

[warbling whistle]

[chiming piano chords]

The ice talons set harder in the land.

No twitter of finch or linnet was heard,

for those which remained were dead.

[owl hoots]

One night, raving with hunger,

Tarka was drawn to a nearby farmyard.

[man calls] Reuben?

- Reuben!
- What?

Have you fed the dog?

[soft quacking]

[owl hoots]

[wind howling]

[Tarka warbles; ducks react]

[gate creaks]

[paws pattering]


[dog whines]

[loud quack]

[menacing note]

The smell of ducks was painful to Tarka.

Juices flowed into his mouth;
his heart beat faster.

[Tarka whistles]

[barking, agitated quacking
and whistling]

[trap snaps]

[farmer] Shut you up, dog!

Hold your racket!

[dog whines, Tarka whistles]

Hey! Reuben. Come quick.

[tense music]

Otter! A great big fritzing.
I'll get you, you bastard!

[dog barks]


He won't bother they ducks
no more. [chuckles]

Come on.

[geese calling]

[harmonica theme]

His fright in the farmyard forgotten
and his paw healed,

Tarka left Ram's Horn Pond
to embark on his spring journey.

Tarka left the estuary, passing the well-
remembered places of his earlier journey,

sleeping by day in riverside
holts and marshes,

and feeding by night.

It was a happy journey that Tarka made
up the river swollen with snow-water.

Instinct urged Tarka to the stone
at which every otter

travelling up the river before him
had paused.

[music builds in intensity]

He followed the scent of otters
up the Torridge,

to where it became the Okemont,
flowing down from Dartmoor

[buzzard cries]

The buzzard looked down on
where the Two Rivers began.

Tarka had followed the Torridge
to its source.

[frog warbles]

[staccato flute notes]

[frogs calling in different tones]

Tarka, puzzled, encountered frogs
for the first time.

[Tarka whistles]

Tarka set off again. This time,
the River Taw was his waterway.

On a regular marking place of otters,
to his joy,

Tarka recognised the scent of

His heart beat faster, and he
followed the water she had travelled.

The river hurried away from the moor

to become a proper river, with bridges,
brooks, islands, weirs, and mills.

From the sun came the unseen message.

The sap rose in the grasses and in
the rugged oak tree.

Bird and flower, tree and butterfly
were moved,

so every year in the spring, life came
to the earth.

Tarka, too, felt the urge to take a mate.

Tarka had many friends he played with,
and forgot,

during his joyful water-life.

Sticks, stones and, once,
an empty tin.

[whimsical, percussive music]

Like all otters, Tarka revelled in
falling water,

going wild with joy, rolling in ecstasy
as he tried to catch

the twisting rope of water.

[animated chattering]


A few hours earlier, her mate
had been killed by hounds.

Tarka heard Whitetip's call and
whistled in his joy.

[drum beating and
orchestral flourish]

The otters played and played.
They frolicked together,

and there was great joy in their
having found each other again.

[brisk, joyful music]

[gentle whistling and chattering]

[animated babbling]

Spring turned into summer,

but otters know only day and night,
the sun and the moon.

The two otters travelled down the
River Taw to the estuary,

where the Two Rivers meet before
flowing into the Atlantic.

Whitetip was way-wise in this water.

She was taking Tarka back to the holt
where she had been born.

[soft squealing and whistling]

And while Whitetip awaited the
birth of her cubs,

Tarka also returned to where
he had been born...

Owlery Holt.

[serene music]

[gentle, playful music]

[owlet hisses]

The owlets wheezed and weaved,

looking down on Tarka just as Eldrich
had looked down on Tarka's mother,

before his birth.

[owlet hisses]

[owlet hisses]

The willow warbler's song was
heard by Whitetip,

suckling her newly born cubs
in the holt.

[cubs mew! and whistle softly]

[gentle harmonica theme]

[excited chattering]



Sometimes Tarka came up from
Owlery Holt to see Whitetip,

when she would leave the cubs to
relax and gambol with Tarka

among the kingcup.

[playful babbling]


[squealing and chattering]

[water babbling]

[snoring and snuffling]

[gentle music]

[cub whistling softly]

[Tarka whistles]

At times, Whitetip wanted to be alone
and rejected Tarka's call to play.

[both calling]

[herons calling]

Old Nog was working very hard.

He'd got two youngsters to feed,

who, he felt, were old enough to
leave the nest

and learn to fish for themselves.

Nevertheless, off he went again.


Now, at his favourite fishing place,
stood another heron,

after his fish!

[both herons squawking]

Old Nog preened himself
in his satisfaction.


When the owlets let him,
Tarka slept,

and dreamed of a journey with Whitetip
down to a strange sea

where otters were never hungry,
and never hunted.

[playful music]

[music ends; owlet hisses]

[suspenseful note; sharp drum beats]

[horn hoots]

[horn hoots]

[bells chime]

As the dragonflies of the river,

so were the otter-hunters'
uniforms coloured,

blazing in blues, reds, and gold.

[church bell tolls]

[Master of the Hounds]
Right, Harry, move in a little.

I think we can gather round
rather more closely, gentlemen.

And you, sir - could you come forward
a little bit there, please?

- [huntsman] Like this?
- [photographer] Thanking you.

And you gentlemen at the back,
could you move out of the picture, please?

[narration] For the country of the
Two Rivers,

the first meet of the otter-hunting season
was a grand social occasion.

Oh, boy - out of the picture please.
Come along, boy.

[Master of the Hounds] Get away, boy!
Get out of the way, now!

Right now, gentlemen, if you could
hold very still, please...

[bell rings]

Right, that's it, thank you very much,
gentlemen. Thanking you.

[Master of the Hounds]
Well, thank you very much.

I hope the photograph turns out well.

- I'll see you again later on.
- Very good, Master.

It's very kind of you to allow us to
meet here again this year, Hibbert,

- and entertain us so agreeably.
- Not at all, Master.

Absolutely delighted to see you.

Have there been any reports
of otter in the water?

My river keeper says he's seen signs
of an otter down at Canal Bridge.

Do you remember where
you drew last year?

I remember. That sounds promising.

- Well, I hope you're lucky.
- I'm sure we shall.

May I say that you're looking absolutely
charming, my dear.

- It's always a very great pleasure to see you.
- Thank you.

- Lucy, what about a glass of sherry?
- [Lucy] No, thank you.

- Master?
- Oh, thank you.

Well, here's to a successful day.

Come on, then.

Come on.

All right, that's it.

[hounds start to bark excitedly]

Come on, then, boys.


Over there.

Coop, coop, coop.

Come on, now. come on.

This way. Come on, then.

Come on, then. Coop.
Coop! Coop! Coop! Coop!

- Come here, doggy. Ooh!
- Nimrod!


[narration] The hounds loved the huntsmen,

who called each of them by name.

Come on, Jarvie.

[narration] And there, apart and morose,
was Deadlock.

Deadlock. Come on, Deadlock.

Come on!
[Deadlock growls]

- May we move off, Hibbert?
- By all means, Master.

- Now, then, out of the way, Keepsake.
- Come on, you.

How are you this morning, old girl?
Come along, Nimrod.

Out of my way. All right, Tommy,
you can move off now, if you're ready.

Yes, sir.

Come along, boys.

Come on, then.
Coop, coop, coop, Coop.

Hold up, Memory. Memory, Memory.

Come on here. Coop!

[hunting horn calls]

[hunting horn calls]

[drum beats rhythmically;
Tarka whistles softly]

Go gently.

[subdued barks and yelps]

Here, come.

Here, come on here! Coop!
Come on here.

[drum beats]

[chiming bells; drum rolls]

[birds chirp in alarm]

[drum beats]

[hounds yelping and whining]


[huntsman] Hey!

[indistinct shouts]

Terrier, please.

I'll take him. Thanks.

[Tommy] Come on, boys. Come away.

Nimrod, come on.

Come back, Deadlock.

Come on. In you go. In you go, Biff.

[Tarka whistles]

- [terrier barks]
- Come on, boy, can you see?

[Tarka whistles and terrier barks]

[Tommy - hushed] I can't see
anything in there.

[tense music]

[Tommy - hushed] They're killin' each other!

[hound growling; drum beating]

[narration] As the water was shallow,

the otter hunters gave Tarka
four minutes' law.

A sporting chance to get away.

[drum pounds]

Don't rush around.
Give it a chance.

[shouts of encouragement]

[urgent music]

[music quietens; bells chime]

[urgent music]

[Tarka whistles]

At the weir, instead of
going straight on as expected,

Tarka ducked into the leat,
leading off the main river.

Tarka ran across the meadow, making a loop
from the leat to Beam Wood.

[drum beats]

[drum beats]

[hounds yelping excitedly]

[hunting horn calls]

[crows cawing]

[woodpecker drumming]

[tapping sound]

[bird chirps in alarm]

[tense music]

[hounds yelping]

Come on, Nimrod.

Y oy-oy-oy-oy-0y-oy!

Leaving the wood, Tarka slipped
into the water

and swam down to the
mill end of the leat.

[music builds in intensity]

[roar of water through blades]

One o'clock, Albert!

[wheel whirs to a halt]

[hunting horn calling
and hounds barking]

[drum beats]

[Deadlock growls]

[yelping and barking]

[hounds barking and horn calling]

[Master of the Hounds]
Just investigate that grating.

[Tommy] Try the other side.

- [hunstman] I don't know...
- [Tommy] Can you see anything?

- [growling]
- [huntsman] I can't see anything.

[narration] After a time,
the noises receded.

Tarka settled more comfortably
in his hiding place.

He twitched uneasily in his sleep.

How long do you think we should pause
here before moving on?

Oh, I should think about
20 minutes, Master.

Yes, that seems reasonable.

[dog whines]


Want one, gentlemen?

[quickening drum beats]

[Tarka screeches]

- Oh, Mummy!
- [woman] Euh! Get away, yer varmint!

Gone away!

[hounds barking and yelping]

[glass rattles]
Hey! Come back here, you!

Sorry, Mrs Jenkins!

[drum pounding]

[urgent, discordant music]

There he is!

Oh! Blast!

Come on! Come on!

- Have we lost it?
- No!

[music quietens]

[cows lowing and
hens clucking]

[drum beating]

[Tarka whistles]

[terrified clucking]

[cow moos]

Easy, Rosie, old girl. Easy.

[hunting horn and hounds barking]

What's goin' on ‘ere?

Now look, get out of there, you brutes!

Away with you! Go on home!

[dramatic music]

What are you doin' out here?
What's goin' on?

- We're hunting an otter.
- You're trespassin' on my property!

It's perfectly reasonable for the hunt to
go through a farm in this way.

Not while I'm tryin' to milk
my Rosie, it isn't!

I'm afraid I really can't argue about that
with you now, sir.

We may lose hounds!

[car horn blares]

[woman] Oh, look!

[drum beating]

[woman] What is it, Henry?

- [woman] Look!
- [man] It's an otter, dear.

[woman] Look, there he goes!
How exciting!

Get your camera, Henry!


[frantic yelping]

[woman] Look! The hounds!

- Which way's it gone?
- Over there!

Down there!

[woman] Good luck! Good luck!

[Master of the Hounds]
I'm sorry to interfere with your journey.

[narration] Tarka was making for the
sanctuary of Owlery Holt.

All he wanted was to be left alone...

and to sleep.

[bell chimes]

[hounds whining and howling]

[drum rolls]

[hunting horn calls]

[terrier barks]

[dramatic music]

[Tarka whistles]


We'll form a stickle now - you people
over there, the others down there.

[urgent, dramatic music]


[music quietens]

[narration] The otter disappeared.

[narration] The river grew quiet.

The huntsmen walked slowly upstream,
letting the hounds work themselves.

[hounds whining and yelping]

Every yard of the river was searched again.

Only Tarka's nostrils and eyes were
above water.

He never moved.

[hunting horn calls]

Come on.

[insect buzzing]

[suspenseful music]

[chiming notes]

[Tarka sneezes]

Tally ho!

Over there, Master! Over there!

[hounds whining and howling]

Tarka swam until he saw before him
the bright bubbled iron-shod barrier.

[tense music]

Upstream, the water was thrashed in
another line from bank to bank.

Tarka was trapped and exhausted.

[rapid drumbeat]


Oh! There!

[rapid drumbeat]

[Tarka whistles]

Deadlock, come back!

[quickening drumbeat]

[Deadlock whines]

[Deadlock growls]

[Tarka warbles]

[Tarka gives a screeching cry]

[distorted howl reverberates]

[bell chiming softly]

[plaintive melody]



[subdued barking]

[hunstmen murmur]

And while they stood there
silently looking down at Deadlock,

a bubble rose out of the depths,
and broke.

And as they watched, another
shook the surface, and broke.

And there was a third bubble in
the ocean-going waters.

And nothing more.

[Old Nog calls]

[serene music]

[hunting horn blows for home]

[closing theme music]