Born in Surrey, Hardy began his career in the 1960s in Canada and the United States, where he directed episodes for Esso World Theater, an omnibus program about cultures around the world, and eventually found a steady career in commercials and educational films. (Hardy’s 1965 episode on India, which featured performances by Ravi Shankar and a short segment directed by Satyajit Ray, can be seen here.)
The idea of bringing Hardy aboard the project that eventually became The Wicker Man came from screenwriter Anthony Shaffer, an old acquaintance of the director. A playwright and former lawyer, Shaffer—who was the twin brother of Peter Shaffer, the writer of Equus and Amadeus—was just beginning to establish himself in film with screenplays for Sleuth, based on his own play, and Frenzy, which marked Alfred Hitchcock’s return to England after decades in Hollywood.
After throwing story ideas back and forth over a weekend, Shaffer and Hardy settled on the idea of a devoutly Christian police officer (eventually played by Edward Woodward) investigating a mysterious disappearance in Summerisle, a fictional island community of modern-day pagans. Despite the enthusiastic support of Peter Snell and co-star Christopher Lee, who had been involved in the project from the start and worked for free to keep it on budget, The Wicker Man ran into problems because of financial difficulties at its production company, British Lion Films.
An eerie and almost unclassifiable film that maintains an atmosphere of doom and dread while foregoing most of hallmarks of horror, The Wicker Man received an indifferent release and little promotion. (Lee, who played pagan leader Lord Summerisle, even offered to buy film critics’ tickets if they went to see it.) However, the movie gradually developed a reputation as one of unimpeachable classics of British genre filmmaking, inspiring everything from Ben Wheatley’s Kill List to the music video for Radiohead’s “Burn The Witch.”
Hardy would go on direct only two more features: the serial killer film The Fantasist in 1986 and a spiritual sequel to his debut called The Wicker Tree in 2011. Neither were well-received. Last year, Hardy tried unsuccessfully to crowd-fund a film called The Wrath Of The Gods, a somewhat bizarre-sounding riff on Norse mythology set around a theme park.
He also wrote several novels, the most successful being 1981’s The Education Of Don Juan. In the 1990s, Hardy founded Hardy & Sons, a production company that specialized in historical dramas, which was eventually headed by his son, TV director Justin Hardy.