by Allan Fish
(UK 1966 77m) DVD2
Well, I was a bit fed up
p Tony Garnett d Ken Loach w Jeremy Sandford ph Tony Imi ed Roy Watts art Sally Hulke
Carol White (Cathy), Ray Brooks (Reg), Winifred Dennis (Mrs Ward), Wally Patch (grandad), Adrienne Frame (Eileen), Emmett Hennessy (Johnny), Geoffrey Palmer (property agent), Gabrielle Hamilton (welfare officer),
There’s an understatement. Here we have that rarest of beasts, a moving picture that not only moved, not only did so in more ways than one, but also shocked a nation into action. It really did make a difference; it was discussed not only on television shows but in the very houses of government. It was a major reason behind the formation of homeless charity Shelter. It was among the very first TV plays to go out on the streets in a cinema vérité style to document the urban squalor in all its hideous glory. It also was the first major work in the career of Britian’s premier political film-maker of the post-war era, Ken Loach.
Cathy is a young woman who has run away from home and who meets Reg, a nice young fellow with whom she falls in love, gets married and has children by. The problem is that he has an accident which prevents him from working, his mother is totally oblivious to their plight and refuses to help, and then their kindly landlady, who had let them off rent while Reg was unable to work, dies suddenly. Now her greedy relatives send round a fascist debt collector to terrorise them into leaving, which they are forced to do. They are moved into a caravan, which they are forced to sell, into a derelict house, from which they are also evicted, even into a tent before she enters a barbaric temporary residence accommodation system where she cannot see her increasingly estranged husband. As Reg says, “as time goes on we just seem to get lower.”
It’s like the reality of the world satirised by At Last the 1948 Show in the immortal ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ sketch, with its protestations of “we were evicted from our hole in the ground, we had to go and live in a lake!” Here was depicted a world which had changed little since 1948. Many of the elder people were too nostalgic for the golden era of the war, with its community spirit and none of this riff-raff contaminating their places of residence. Behind the story of poor Cathy and Reg and their doomed family, we have the statistics read out by nameless individuals…200,000 more families in the London area than homes to put them in…families would be 350 years on the housing list before being offered a house…. At one point Reg berates some jobsworth for merely complaining at doing a job he hates and not doing anything about it, and of course it’s films such as Loach’s that were doing something about it, though much of the credit must go to Garnett for getting it produced and to Stanford for his gritty script.
Forty years on, what is the legacy of Cathy? In truth it’s perhaps gone too far the other way. Once we didn’t care at all about such unfortunate, heart-broken people, whereas now we can be seen by some to make it too easy, in certain cases. In modern Britain single motherhood is a career of choice for many uneducated teenage girls who see it as an easy life at the state’s expense, a cynicism which has and will always blight genuine welfare reform. Yet few would not argue that it’s a far better state of affairs than the Britain documented here, a horrific, hopeless, endless despair punctuated by not a single glimmer of sunshine – well, actually, there is one, a romantic moment when the couple make out to the strains of the almost painfully poignant ‘Stand by Me’. One might go as far as to say the first prototype Loachian world, for his worlds have always been optimism free. Its cast are perfectly chosen, with Brooks impressive as the unfortunate husband, while White is simply astonishing as the tragic Cathy, the poignancy of her performance enhanced cathartically by contemplation of her own unfortunate demise at fifty, that final image of her on the roadside desperate for a lift to take her away from her hell, one of the most indelible in screen history.