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on 29 March 2017
Poverty and neglect. The first damages one physically through undernourishment, malnutrition and illness, the second through emotional deprivation.

Bill Douglas (1934-91) was born poor in a home without love and support. His father was cold and distant, his mother mentally unstable. He grew up in working-class Edinburgh in the 1930s and ‘40s. Depression and war had exhausted Britain, the economy depleted. People everywhere were struggling and suffering, the poor in particular.

The trilogy is an autobiography of his early life. It begins when he is 6 or 7 and ends a dozen years or so later when he is a young adult.

Freud said the foundation of character is formed and fixed by age 7. If he was right, we see the state Bill is in at that age: morose, bored, confused, unfocused, ill-disciplined, lost, his attention span and patience short. He is too young, too immature to understand his circumstances. But he can feel them. He responds sometimes by lashing out, throwing and breaking things. Other times he accepts them in a catatonic stupor of lethargy and ennui. The camera lingers on him in stillness, its motionlessness mirroring the empty state of his mind. He rarely looks at the lens or into anyone’s eyes, and he never smiles, only scowls. He sits and hangs his head. It rests between his knees. He’s escaping the world, fleeing from it with the only freedom he has, giving up on it, retreating into himself, to a place where it can’t touch him.

The character who plays Bill is Jamie. He in turn is played by Stephen Archibald, a street lad Douglas met at a bus stop in Edinburgh. Archibald, too, was born poor. Douglas saw his early self in him, put him in the film, allowed him to become him.

Home is really an emotion, not a place. It’s a feeling of belonging, of having a place to call home. It can be anywhere, but without the feeling for it one is lost, marooned in the world. Jamie is lost. He eats and sleeps in rooms that are not his. They could be his granny’s, his neighbours’, the local school’s, even those of the Salvation Army. He shuttles between places, sometimes collared and kept there, other times running away from them. He knows he is unwanted, unloved. He can’t say what love is precisely, but he knows the feeling of its absence. When occasional kindnesses come his way he’s unsure how to respond to them, hardly able to process them. He sometimes destroys gifts, physical objects, perhaps failing to see them as symbolic tokens of affection. More important than gifts is food, which he steals when it isn’t given to him. A German POW befriends him. So does a kindly schoolmaster. Even his grandmother sometimes hugs him, especially when drunk and incoherent (which is frequent). The adults are not to be trusted. He inhabits their world, the one they have made, but it’s a world that lets him down. He doesn’t know what to make of anything apart from eating and sleeping, the two constants he knows and requires. In a way he is a feral child, an animal of appetites only, made wild by a lack of care, affection, guidance.

He is dirty most of the time and always cold in winter, his clothes tattered and torn. He can’t see the point of bathing, of being clean. Clean for what? He is given a new suit of clothes at one point but throws the necktie and coat away. He prefers his manky jumper with holes in it. It’s dirty from the coal he occasionally gathers, stealing it from the local pit. Perhaps the jumper is a magical thing, a secret suit of armour he wears to protect himself.

Tommy is his half-brother (same father, different mothers, two or three years older). They often tussle and fight as young boys will, the fighting binding them together. They take out their frustrations and misery on one another, though consciously unaware of what they are doing. It happens naturally. When Tommy moves away to the house of a relative Jamie is alone again, back to his natural state. He is stranded. Even among others he is solitary, withdrawn into himself.

His life is desultory, a series of displacements between adults. In each place he is uncommitted. There are no roots, no contiguous history. There is only dislocation and drift.

Jamie is older in the third film in the trilogy, perhaps 19 or 20. He has somehow survived childhood and joined the RAF. He is sent out to Egypt. In one scene he stands before one of the great Pyramids. His regimental mate Robert, an Englishman, says, “Don’t you see it? It’s one of the seven great wonders of the world.” Jamie looks but doesn’t see, the structure devoid of wonder, just a collection of stones piled in the shape of a pyramid, a blank in his education and mind. But Robert is kind, non-judgemental, patient. He works with Jamie, works with his heart and imagination. And because of him Jamie begins to find new parts of himself, undiscovered and untapped areas of mind. He begins to draw, to see with the eyes of an artist and understand beauty for the first time.

They both love movies, both he and Robert, and go to the picture shows often. Jamie puts up photos and posters of movie stars in his locker. Marilyn Monroe, impossibly glamorous, is a favourite. The movies grow on him — and in him. One day he realises he wants to make movies. He has never wanted anything before, but now he knows he wants this. And so Jamie as Bill will do that, will love movies, and one day Bill will tell his story in moving pictures through Jamie. This is that story. It’s sad and heartrending, callous and brutal, but also inspiring. Poverty was supposed to crush him. He wasn’t supposed to be anything. But he confounded its limitations and made himself into an artist, a film auteur, and one of Scotland’s finest.

He spares little here. He tells the truth. It’s bleak and hard, but it’s the way it was for him. This is what he came out of — what we see on the screen. He goes back to it with many things: a patient heart, clear mind, steady camera, long takes in austere black and white.

The pace is slow and dreamlike, a dizziness perhaps made by hunger. The sets are simple, almost bare. Spoken words are few. Natural sounds dominate: dripping water, shoes on the pavement, a crackling fire in the hearth. There is music (sung by people) but no soundtrack. Poverty is sparse; so too this sparse depiction of it. You might think you’ll be depressed and bored by it. You could be, but if you surrender to it you won’t be. It takes you where it thinks you need to go and shows you how it was.
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on 2 July 2010
An understated, slow burner of a story. At times difficult to view through the lens of a modern cinematic visual vocabulary but patience with this trilogy is the reward of a gem of a story and some everlasting, cinematic images.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 26 November 2013
Philip French is quoted on the box as saying: "I believe this trilogy will come to be regarded not just as a milestone, but as one of the heroic achievements of the British cinema." It's an endorsement that seems fully justified when you watch this tryptich - it shows the intensity of a painter's eye - totalling nearly three hours (making each film actually quite short). Coming-of-age films are rarely as gritty as this one, but what is even rarer is its visual poetry that creates such a density of image. The black and white pictures really do tell the story of young Jamie's life, and get the feel of it in a piecemeal, slightly dislocated way, but with great power. It is closest to Vigo, I think, as another reviewer has said, turning the ordinary into something unforgettable. There is also something of Bresson in how much meaning he can get into a door opening, or the bleakest domestic scene, which is more austere than Vigo. You often feel intensely sorry for Jamie, at which point he is often held in the frame in all his helplessness. The actor, Stephen Archibald, gets older in successive films, going from about ten to sixteen. He has a forlorn look that evokes as much pathos as Antoine Doinel in Les 400 Coups, in fact his reticence and sad expression are heartbreaking, and he seems less of a survivor. The friend he meets in the airforce seems to have an intimate connection to him and a concern that verge on love, very touchingly after following his travails through so many episodes and so much unkindness. But potential viewers shouldn't be put off by the bleakness, because it is transcended by the cinematic art in a way few films manage to this marvellous degree. The second disc includes a short interview with Douglas, a documentary about his life, and a short film called Come Dancing that does have a quite explicit gay aspect, especially when you consider it was made in Britain in 1970, thereby preceding Sunday Bloody Sunday by a year.
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on 18 June 2008
Bill Douglas (1934-91) only made 4 films in his career, and the Trilogy forms the core of his oeuvre. Based on his own upbringing in dire poverty in a mining village just outside Edinburgh in the 1940s and 50s, they do not make for easy viewing. But kitchen sink realism a la Loach and Leigh they are not: these are poetic films, and can stand with the best of world cinema. Filtered through Douglas's memory, they are unsentimental, at times bleak and brutal, but always compassionate; rather than narratives, they are more like poems. Poetic cinema is rare enough in Britain, which seems to be embarrassed by such things, and these three films are powerful enough to be remembered by the body as much as the memory. Bill Douglas had a unique vision, and the Trilogy, once seen, will stay with you for A very long time, and can stand up to repeated viewings, each time giving you something new. They are almost totally unique in British cinema, but rather than lament, we should give thanks that at least Douglas managed to make 4 films - all masterpieces (the other being the 3 hour epic Comrades).

The transfers appear to be very good, and the booklet contains a number of essays about the films. Disc Two contains Douglas's London Film School graduation film, Come Dancing, in which his mature style was first evident, as well as a short interview about the Trilogy from 1980, and Andy Kimpton-Nye's 2006 documentary about Douglas's life and work.

I can't recommend these films higly enough. Bill Douglas is a forgotten genius of British cinema, and let's hope this excellent release does something to bring him back to some kind of visibility.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 May 2012
This autobiographical trilogy is a piece of masterful film-making. Set at the end of the 2nd world war it depicts the evolving life of young boy who lives in a Scottish mining community. The boys life is a tale of rejection and alienation, as he lives with various members of his family. The back of the DVD says this is not a depressing set of films, or words to that effect, but I'm afraid I did find them quite depressing, and any prospective purchasers need to be aware of this. An action blockbuster this is not!

The films themselves were shot of a period of years using the same actors, so the boy grows through the 3 films. They are quite short. The first two are under an hour each and the 3rd is 72mins.

Having said that the movies are depressing, to counter-balance that, the acting is first class, some of the cinematography is beautiful and there is a poetic quality to the whole trilogy that you would never see in a contemporary mainstream movie.
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on 15 November 2009
Had the first two of the trilogy on tape many years ago and decided to treat myself to the DVD. It is a very dark film about two young boys growing up in a Scottish mining village - the boys have different fathers who rarely take an interest in them and a mother who is in a mental hospital. Not for the faint hearted ! It is so well portrayed and you feel every emotion with them - give it a go.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 16 February 2015
Seen as some of the best depictions of childhood ever recorded on camera; these three films from Bill Douglas are both time capsules and sad reminders of how tough it was and can be growing up poor. These are autobiographical films and the first `My Childhood' was made in 1972 with Stephen Archibald playing the main character `Jamie'. It is set in a blasted landscape in a Scottish coal mining community just at the tail end of World War II.

Jamie is being brought up by his grandmother along with his older half brother Tommy. It is utterly devastating what the children go through all to a seemingly indifferent world.

The second `My Ain Folk' was made the following year and picks up where the first ended with Jamie ending up in a council run care home. It shows him trying to adjust and yet at all time being alone, even when he is surrounded by others. This is probably one of the bleakest of the three films in that this depicts the very people who Jamie should rely on to support and care for him and all are found wanting.

The final part is `My Way Home and was made five years later in 1978, in fact Bill Douglas waited until Stephen Archibald was old enough to be able to play his army role. This is a sort of redemption and features his adolescence and all the anomie that would normally afflict any teenager at that time being expanded by the exterior influences he faces.

These are devastatingly dark films, all shot in brilliant black and white with dirt you can almost feel under your nails and the smells seem to cloy at you from the screen. For me there was a lot of resonance with my childhood, though nowhere near as bleak, so for me it was not an easy watch - especially the violence. It is a testament to the human spirit that he could have gone through so much and ended up such a talented and gifted individual.
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on 10 February 2010
The most affecting series of films you are ever likely to see. A window into a life that is both harrowing and uplifting. There is a sense of hope just under the surface, however, the surface is pitted, scarred and almost impenetrable.

A must have for everyone, film buff or otherwise.
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on 17 November 2008
I suppose this doesn't really count as a review but for me the release of these films on DVDs is extra special. My grandmother plays the paternal grandmother in the first two films and, as she died when I was one, the films she made are the only way of seeing her. I have these on video so was delighted to find them on DVD. They are stark, gloomy films but a good portrayal of a time gone by.
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on 21 August 2015
Some people have said that the first film in the trilogy is not a true depiction and that it is too bleak. These are people who never lived in poor areas in the 50s or just didn't want to see. For once here is a film that shows the human misery of poverty, not in third world countries, but as it was then in Britain for the poor - not the unemployed but the working people who were paid such a pittance and for such long hours and hard work. I found this film touching but with no sentimentality. The other two are good but do not have the same impact of the first. The storyline of the later films is more optimistic than the reality for the two boys who both died young.
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