When I was a child my playmate was my cousin Charles Pierce. When we were four or five, at the end of the 1940s, his mum, Eileen, whom many of you will remember living in the house on Darling Street which is now the Credit Union, brought us both to the Regal Cinema on Townhall Street to see ‘Tarzan and the Mermaids’, with Johnny Weissmuller. In spite of my own mum’s concerns about allowing an innocent child to witness coortin’ couples, chain smoking and vulgar cat calls, it was the beginning of a love affair with cinema which has endured into my old age. I remember the long queue, right up to the Diamond, for the first Cinemascope feature, ‘The Robe’, starring Richard Burton and Jean Simmons. It was a huge commercial blockbuster but it was not until I was a student in Edinburgh that I came across films which were more poetic and idiosyncratic, a very different kettle of fish from what was being produced in Hollywood and Ealing Studios.

As a young man who had grown up arty and with a strong feeling of being an outsider, I latched on to the work of Ingemar Bergman. The work which made the strongest impact was his 1957 film, 'The Seventh Seal', the story of the battle between fear and faith, told through the medieval imagination, in the time of the Black Death in the fourteenth century. Without going into too much detail, there are two main characters, a disillusioned knight returning from the Crusades who persuades Death, personified as a pale-faced man in a black cloak and scythe, to play chess to decide if he lives or dies, forgetting that Death is always, ultimately, the victor.

The other character is a travelling actor who has a simple strong faith. At one point he sees a vision, one of the most poignant scenes in the film, of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child walking across a sunlit meadow and it gives him hope and faith. Later, in his horse-drawn caravan with his wife and child, he notices that a thunderstorm has stopped and takes it as a sign that they will survive. But the knight succumbs to the plague and the actor sees him in a line of people, in a dance of death on the horizon.

You don’t need me to draw the parallels with the present corona situation. We play chess every time we go to the supermarket. There are times when we fear the future, like the knight, and times that we have a simple, cheerful faith, like the actor. Within each of us there is the same dichotomy. 'The Seventh Seal' is a movie that has stayed with me all my life. There have been reminders along the way. The knight was played by Max von Sydow (who died two months ago at 90. He avoided checkmate for a long time!). When I was young, believe it or not, I was very skinny, with a strong jaw like von Sydow. I actually looked a bit like him. In 1966 I was working for Michael Scott, the famous architect, in Dublin. I went to the cinema to see 'The Greatest Story Ever Told'. In it, Jesus was played by von Sydow. Coming out of the cinema into the summer evening light, some people drew breath when they saw me. One ould wan even blessed herself.

Some of the scenes in 'The Seventh Seal' were shot on the rocky shore of Hovs Hallar Nature Reserve in Sweden. The rocks themselves are weird and wonderful and Bergman, the director, guiding our imaginations, almost gives them a life of their own. It is not surprising that, when looking for a location for another film, 'Through a Glass Darkly', where he wanted the landscape to be one of the characters, he was directed to the amazing, anthropomorphic rocks on the beaches of the island of Fårö, off the larger island of Gotland, Sweden. He fell in love with the place and settled there for the rest of his life.

For me, the equivalent in Fermanagh is the ivy on the ash trees which grow untidily from the hedges of our farmland.

All my life I have seen shapes in the ivy. Can you see a bear playing a cello in this Fermanagh hedgerow?

Here’s another example of what I see. On the left is ivy on a couple of trees. On the right is the scene of one man playing the flute and two men dancing wildly, which is my interpretation. It is the role of the artist to stimulate our imaginations and help us to see what we hadn’t noticed before. Ingmar Bergman does that, in spades, for me, especially in 'The Seventh Seal'. One last little postscript: There is a tenuous Fermanagh connection. Miss Julie is a 2014 period drama film written and directed by Liv Ullmann, based on the 1888 play of the same name by August Strindberg and starring Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton. It was shot on location at Castle Coole and the stars had their evening pints at Blakes of the Hollow. Although she does not appear in 'The Seventh Seal', Liv Ullmann was Bergman’s favourite actress. Favourite enough for them to live together for many years and have a daughter. That movie, though very dark, shows the influence of her exposure to Bergman’s directing and somehow bestows the magic of his eye on to the Fermanagh landscape.