Family Life (1971)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB.  

United Kingdom, 1971.  , Kestrel Films.  Screenplay by , based on his play.  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .

Ken Loach can turn even manipulative melodrama into compelling interactions that have a documentary feel, here adapting David Mercer’s play about a young woman so pressured by her parents’ control that it literally drives her insane.  is superb as the younger daughter of a lower middle class couple who enjoys the ragged pleasures that early seventies London has to offer, staying out too late and catting around with her boyfriend and failing to keep any of her low-level jobs for any significant amount of time.  The criticism she gets from her parents eventually convinces them to think her in need of psychiatric assistance, which as you can guess is the rabbit hole that spirals into a nightmare.  Loach behaves like he’s being objective though a bias is clearly in place: Ratcliff’s mother can barely say anything without being a passive aggressive monster (“I hope you enjoy this lunch because I worked so hard to make it”) and her father is always telling her and not asking her questions, but there are still a lot of elements at play that keep it complex and never lets it feel manipulative.  The strange insecurity these people have for keeping control over their daughter is presented with the same cool distance as her own passive aimlessness, the gulf of difference that so greatly distanced the stiff upper lip World War II generation from the indulgent explorers who followed is as much to blame as the personal issues of these individual characters.  It’s too compelling a film to be depressing, but what’s most upsetting about this one is how very dated it is not.

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