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aka - Wednesday's Child
United Kingdom 1972
Directed by
Ken Loach
108 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Family Life

Ken Loach and his producer Tony Garnett had a surprise hit with their social realist portrait of a young working class Yorkshire lad in Kes (1969). It was a strong example of British committed cinema but mild stuff compared to this excoriating account of institutionalized socialization.

Family Life is adapted by David Mercer from his television play “In Two Minds” and tells the story of a confused 19-year-old girl, Janice Baildon (Sandy Ratcliff), who lives at home with her parents, hard-working authoritarian father (Bill Dean), a storeman, and controlling, pretentious mother (Grace Cave). As Janice becomes increasingly erratic and rebellious and finally pregnant, her parents force her to get an abortion and then when she reacts badly to this, turn to the public mental health system for a solution. Placed in an institution Janice initially receives some help from a Langian psychologist, Dr. Donaldson (Michael Riddall), but he is removed by the hospital's conservative board and she is then treated with drugs and electric-shock therapy which reduce her to zomboid lifelessness

Loach uses a low-budget, semi-documentary approach to mount a scathing attack on the bigotry of moral righteousness and the scandalous out-datedness of Britain's mental health system (which we hope has long since improved). The cast are extraordinarily convincing (much of the dialogue appears to be improvised) although the film tends to overstate the case, in particular making Janice’s boyfriend, Tim (Malcolm Tierney) a mere mouthpiece for the authorial point of view.

Family Life is a harrowing film that although having too much of a grim realist bent to appeal to a wide audience is a commendably passionate attack on the brutalizing tendencies of “normal” society of the day.

.FYI: For related subject matter and points of view interested parties should see One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Frances (1982). 




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