Director: Richard Billingham
Starring: Patrick Romer, Richard Ashton, Justin Salinger, Ella Smith, Tony Way. UK. 1h 50m
This strangely hypnotic movie doesn’t really have a beginning, middle and an end, per say but there’s a strange introduction to characters, and they are very unusual creatures. Once you get over the initial shock of their squalid lives and attitudes the movie kinda meanders until a pivotal moment where everyone’s life changes, most notable the teller of the story, Richard, and his little brother Jason, who at one point would rather sleep rough than go home, but what would drive a child to do this?
Unflinching look into the lives of those impacted by poverty.
There’s a slow gradual opening to this rather depressing and grungy movie. Tony Way begins the show, he plays Ray’s slow brother called Lol, something that wasn’t viewed with the same eyes as today, an adult with learning difficulties would have been left to their own devices and there’s a clear unsentimental insight into this, when Lol is called over two baby sit he finds himself in a terrible pickle, when the families lodger loads him up to take a massive fall, loading him with booze and letting him take a beating from Liz, a woman known for her epic punches, as much as her chain smoking foul mouth and constant need for money.
After the fall out from this adventure in babysitting, the blood and vomit is cleaned up and the movie is nearly half way done so what is left for the family to do? Well just more of the same the couple just don’t ever seem to want to better themselves and seem to “enjoy” their lives in some way or another. Providing the kids don’t interfere and keep themselves busy, they focus on keeping themselves in “booze and fags”. The only thing to make them scramble and fly into action is when the meters are about to run out and they need a few pence to get it going again.
The aesthetic of the movie is so on point, if you’re confused by what the narrative is trying to say, at least you can sit back and have a trip down memory lane, the old phone boxes with spaces for 2p and 10p pieces, the legendary council fireplace glowing warmly in the night, listening to your parents having CB Radio chats in the kitchen and an array of toys and accessories which really brought me back to the evil reign of thatcher’s oppressive Britain, all beautifully highlighted by the cinematography of Daniel Landin who worked on the cult classic Under the Skin.
Ray, a hardcore drinker and his Brunhilda wife Liz generally have a peaceful existence, Liz is calm once she has something to keep her occupied, such a Jigsaw or embroidery, which she does for her lodger, adding rock band logos to his jean jacket. The children are never in direct danger but they play up, being kids, without much guidance they find strange things to keep them occupied, filling dad’s mouth with pepper powder while he sleeps, collecting snails and keeping them under the bed, nothing too outlandish but it’s surprising considering the environment they are growing up in. Their parents are thankful for the money they bring in but do little in the way of actual caring for them. With modern eyes, Ray and Liz are depressed, they are struggling, despite Ray having a massive redundancy payout, they have spent the money and are relying on help from friends, who are more than happy to turn their backs knowing the family had money and didn’t show any signs of sharing and caring. In one poignant moment Liz is listening in on the CB and everyone is ranting about a couple who won the pools and lost the cash, probably, Vivian Nicholson.
“I’ve got £12 in my pocket and that’s £12 more than you“-Ray
At times the movie jumps to “modern” times, an aged Liz and Ray mulling around in their new day to day lives gives insight into the choices they made back in the day. Their topsy turvy lives in their youth doesn’t amount to much, Ray is now living in a room of his apartment, surviving on a strange cheap homebrew beer a friend brings over daily, Liz eventually makes an appearance, foul mouthed and looking for a hand out. Has anything really changed? What happened to get them here?
If it’s a struggle to watch then it’s Ray and Liz is doing it’s job and it’s doing it right. I’ve known people like this couple, I’ve been in their houses and made friends with them, but some of the life choices and family dynamics are hard to swallow. Seeing this totally honest grimy desperate insight into this “lifestyle” is just as important to be seen and digested as any other.
It’s an incredibly brave insight into a person’s backstory, it’s not often a film like this is made due to embarrassment and usually the process is some kind of therapy for trauma. Whatever the personal reasons, it’s a humbling film that will make you think and feel something different, maybe unable to pinpoint that feeling you’ll have a bit of an honest trip down memory lane yourself.
Lists: Behind the Front Door UK Vol 1, Childhood,