22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 5 February 2004
It isn't often that a film scares me, but with this one even the theme music was disquieting. It isn't often that a film plays on my mind to the point where I lose sleep, but this one did...
I could write a great deal about the plot of Family Life, but I won't. It would be pointless, for this is a film you just have to see. Admirers of Ken Loach moved by his controversial,(albeit fictional) docudrama Cathy Come Home and his North of England classic Kes who have not for some reason taken in this movie should do so now to gain additional insight into Loach's creative abilities. His detractors - and there are a few - should also obtain a copy, as I guarantee it will purge them of any ideas they have of KL as a 60s-70s overlap sentimentalist. There is no sloppiness here, and anyone who gets this film desiring some real or imagined nostalgia of the time when hair was long and tramps well-mannered is likely to be disappointed.
The film stars (future EastEnders) actress Sandy Ratcliff as Janice Bailden, the late teens-early 20s daughter of middle class parents on a new estate. Already the veteran of several dead-end jobs, including one sweeping up in a hairdresser's salon, her behaviour starts to show signs of being erratic, and after an altercation with her mother results in her picking up a breadknife with possible intent, medical help is sought.
What follows is a harrowing portrayal of mental health care as it was at that point in British history, and a grimly factual outlining of the conflict between modern methods in psychiatric treatment and more archaic ones. When care in an open ward, where help is offered via counselling, group therapy and one-to one-analysis is curtailed "for administrative reasons", poor Janice, sometimes cajoled, sometimes almost heckled by her overbearing and even agressive parents, finds herself in the world of locked wards, asylums and ECT, which she is given despite refusing. "The days of long stays in mental hospitals are over" says a brisk psycho-bod confidently - but the end result is complete breakdown. The film ends in silence, after a virtually catatonic Janice is exhibited to medical students as a "classic case of mutism".
This film is perhaps not one for the fainthearted, and there are many who will find it decidedly hard to watch. However, its message to the world, where there are still people willing to call sufferers from emotional illness "nutters" and "head-bangers", is as relevant as ever.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 27 December 2011
British social realist director Ken Loach`s third feature film, an adaptation of the television play "In Two Minds" (1967) which was written by David Mercer (1928-1980) and directed by Ken Loach, was shot on location in Britain, and tells the story about 19-year-old Janice who has been brought up in a very strict working-class family. She lives with her mother and father who thinks she is irresponsible because she often changes jobs. Janice doesn`t do what her parents want her to do and she stands up to them, so they decide that she is sick, talks her into having an abortion because they don`t think she is fit to be a mother, sends her to a psychiatrist and eventually to a mental health institution.
Acutely directed and with a straightforward narrative, this quietly paced and dialog-driven British independent film about social alienation and family relations touches the theme of Schizophrenia, and portrays a quiet study of character with a pointedly understated performance by Sandy Ratcliffe in her debut feature film role as a young woman who`s way towards independence and self respect is obstructed by her parents, who are more interested in giving her directions and criticism rather than giving her the encouragement she needs to live her own life. This compassionate, realistic and social documentary drama from the early 1970s, captures the failure in communication, the generational differences and the involuntary surrender of a 19-year-old woman who is being oppressed by her caretakers.
Ken Loach has a take on depicting stories about individuals who are misconceived and wrongfully treated by society, and his gentle and attentive approach is commendable. As his second feature film "Kes" (1969), "Family Life" has heart, substance and relevance, and is a fine introduction to the works of one of Britain`s greatest directors.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 March 2014
This is a polemical retelling via David Mercer of Laing's great book The Divided Self of 1960. Laing was himself from what might be called a toxic family, his mother as instance having burned the little wooden horse on wheels he had as an infant, according to his autobiography, as "she thought I was getting too fond of it". Toxic parenting he came to see as instrumental in schizoid mental breakdowns where psychotic language dismissed as "scizophrenic" could in fact be seen as presenting symbolic overviews of the totalised situation in which the "patient" found themselves. In the Divided Self Laing extends this view to consider as toxic the triangle between doctor, students and patient in the psychiatrist Kraepelin's quoted 1905 parading of a schizophrenic before a class of medical students; in the Family Life film this demonstration is presented as if a contemporary (1971) conclusion to the film's proceedings.
After the extraordinary brilliance of his debut book The Divided Self, Laing progressed over years to become a kind of cult guru figure, having substituted the notion of the toxic family to a view of the world as itself globally toxic through violence deceit and miltary carnage; he came to romanticise psychotic breakdowns as "breakthroughs"; and to equate psychosis in the face of this toxic world almost as shamanic visionariness; this ran alongside an increasing obsession with supposed prenatal traumatic experience in individuals as presenting the need for "rebirthing"—a curious melange of Scottish born-again evangelicism and New Age mysticism.
Though myself an admirer of Laing the pioneer analytic understander of the "patient" as necessarily and demonstrably as fully human as the observing professional; this powerful film would in a sense be as appropriate to see its truth as much to do with workingclass generation-gap cultural explorations of a film like Keith Waterhouses "Billy Liar" as anything to do with the contemporary NHS. Lack of psycotherapeutic counselling today for instance is surely as much to do with a lack of funding there applied, as anything to do with a rejection of its efficacy. And simply from this film to see that pretty well anything is better than corporate drug prescribing, is the kind of opinion it is the easier to have if one has not actually suffered—and the key word is suffered—serious mental illness. The trouble with Laing is that he did so much of his suffering in childhood. His sympathy with those who suffered in mental wards led dangerously close to his canonising them as lay saints and artists-manque at the expense of their actual suffering. For this, whilst the Divided Self was one of the great books of the twentieth century, Laing's The Politics of Experience I believe to have been one of the most irresponsible. Irresponsible that is, to those suffering illness as distinct from the chic followers of alternative New Age culture for whom the work seemed attractive.
A powerful film, a polemic in the guise of naturalism. But as a comment on mental illness, its portrayal of ECT routinely applied to a young girl whose crime seems to have been to upset her parents and want to stay out late, is hardly the basis for a true understanding either of the actual worth of RD Laing or the state of the mental health service.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 April 2013
I was chuffed to find this marvellous film which has proved so very difficult to come by. The parents in it are so obnoxious that one hasa to restrains oneself in order not to throw a bottle on to the tv screen in dismay and anger.
Seller's business methods are impeccable.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 October 2013
Family Life is a film directed by Ken Loach based on a previous Wednesday Play he had made for the BBC in the 60s entitled In Two Minds. It centres on the troubled life of a young woman, Janice (played by Sandy Ratcliff, who at the time was claimed by David Bailey to have 'the face of the 70s' and would go on to be one of the first residents of Albert Square in EastEnders before a publicised addiction to heroin led to her sacking) whose mental state becomes increasingly erratic following a abortion she was forced into having by her overbearing parents. Taken into care, the film looks at how society systematically fails Janice - much like Loach's previous Cathy Come Home which was an equally unflinching and savage indictment on the failings of society towards those in most need.
As you can probably guess, it's not a comfortable watch. It's harrowing and decidedly grim although, apart from one scene involving ECT, it's not especially shocking visually. Rather, it's the all pervading, stiflingly tragic and futile mood the film is infused with that creates the discomfort. That and three stand out performances from Ratcliff as Janice, Bill Dean as her father, and Grace Cave as her mother. The performance of Cave in particular is a monstrous tour de force. Loach presents a woman who is so cold, so dried up, so cruel and so contemptible towards the young generation that she cannot believe for one moment that it's her attitude towards her daughter that has led to her schizophrenia. I have since read that Cave equally believed her character was right and that she was in no way to blame for Janice's ill health. It doesn't surprise me at all to learn where Loach found this talent; he had met her at the Walthamstow Conservative Association's Ladies Committee and sensed instantly that this formidable, icily polite woman was perfect for the role. There's certainly something of the Mrs Thatcher about Cave's performance; here is a woman who would absolutely believe that there is no such thing as society, only family as her leader would go on to announce.
The film favourably depicts the techniques pioneered by RD Laing, the radical British psychiatrist who believed that schizophrenia was a result of a malignant family set up and advocated nurture of these patients via activity and discussion rather than the traditional physical treatments the medical world favoured at the time. Loach introduces this notion into the film at Janice's first treatment, and he cast a real psychiatric doctor, Mike Riddell, to play her doctor on the film and to coax semi improvisational encounters between him and the rest of the cast. However Janice's plight is further increased when the hospital refuse to extend Riddell's contract and she is placed into another doctor's care who believes in treatments like ECT and the chemical cosh as opposed to Laing's teachings.
It's a deeply tragic and polemical story that unfortunately still has a great deal to say about the treatment and stigma of mental health, but is actually more to do with the suffocating effects of an all too strict and hypocritical family upbringing has when it relies too heavily on traditional values. The title is after all Family Life and the irony becomes just as clear as the Laingian concepts and beliefs at its heart. Loach makes no bones about his belief that society will ultimately fail those in its care and is routinely shown throughout the film to be failing Janice, but it is his belief that she was failed from the off by her parents that is the most crucial message. The film explores how repressive and damaging parental love can be on their offspring's sense of self when they refuse to see a child as anything other than an extension of themselves in a most effectively disturbing and poignant manner.
It just narrowly misses out on perfection for me because I think Malcolm Tierney's character Tim, Janice's boyfriend, is a touch too aloof, underwritten and wishy washy a presence in the film. He comes and goes to give her intelligent and thought provoking pep talks about breaking out from the norm or rescuing her from her institutional tormentors, but the viewer never really gets a grip on him as a 3 dimensional person (unlike the other three key characters) nor does Loach ever bother to depict him as such - for example, we never see how Janice's abortion effects him, if indeed he was the father? Tim's little more than a cypher, a light at the end of a tunnel promising what life could be if everyone stopped being so determined to bury Janice. But whether that life could be as tantalising as it seems is never realistically explored because he's kept on the sidelines.
on 27 March 2015
excellent value and quality