Eye For Film >> Movies >> Cathy Come Home (1966) Film Review
With a career spanning five decades, director Ken Loach has built the bulk of his resume from positioning a microscopic lens over Britain's socio-economic climate. Few projects pack a harder punch than Cathy Come Home, a scathing indictment on the ineptitude of the British council and welfare state in the 1960s.
Inspired by writer/journalist Jeremy Sandford, who had made radio documentaries on homelessness and who's script had been picked up by the BBC's The Wednesday Play, Loach was commissioned in 1966 to direct Cathy Come Home. This was the first of several artistic collaborations between the pair, including Kes (1969) and Days Of Hope (1975).
Only a few years after Harold Macmillan had pompously declared to the British nation, "You've never had it so good", Loach chokes the government by ramming these words hard down its throat. While the nation was basking in the glory of England's 1966 World Cup success, 4,000 kids were being separated from their families and bundled into care because their parents were homeless.
Charting the tumultuous life of Cathy (Carol White) and Reg (Ray Brooks), a young decent working-class couple with kids, we witness the tragedy of a family torn apart by a series of punitive measures imposed by the council. Starting off well in a decent house with Reg earning £35 a week, things are dandy. "We're millionaires aren't we," Reg says grinning. But when he loses his job after a motoring accident, their inexorable downward spiral makes its debut.
With no medical injury compensation, they are forced into a crowded tenement, soon thwarted by the death of the landlord. The council subsequently exploits a government loophole, demanding payment in rears on behalf of the deceased's brother. Near despair Reg and Cathy find a caravan in a park amongst gypsies and other social victims, but when it is set on fire, they find themselves back to square one, clutching for dear life.
Despite welfare provision, Sixties Britain was bursting at the seams with the baby boom situation, coupled with a government short on housing solutions. When Cathy and the kids are separated from Reg and placed in a series of squalid half way houses, your heart bleeds for an undeserved fate, placed entirely at the mercy of a cruel and remorseless machine.
Brooks and White - bearing a striking resemblance to her contemporary Julie Christie - give strong naturalistic performances, speaking volumes for thousands of broken families all over Britain.
Upon its release in 1966, its impact was unprecedented, eliciting widespread censure and enquiries in the Houses of Parliament. More importantly, Loach and Sandford's audacious approach and despondent ending to the film, pulled the trigger that launched Shelter, the housing charity.
It just goes to show that for tens of thousands, the Sixties was a distant cry from sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.Reviewed on: 18 Nov 2003
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