Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Cathy Come Home (1966)

Broadcast on the 16th of November 1966, Cathy Come Home was part of an anthology series called The Wednesday Play, TV films that often dealt with issues affecting the wider British public. Cathy (Carol White) and Reg (Ray Brooks) are a young married couple and their life is initially good. However when Reg loses his job after an accident they are evicted from their apartment. With little money and three young children they are forced to seek shelter with relatives, and are eventually forced to live in a caravan, squat in run down houses and are finally forced into a halfway house for the homeless. Unable to find a job Reg abandons his family and Cathy is forced to watch in agony as her children are taken away by social services.

Directed by Ken Loach Cathy Come Home was watched by 12 million people on it's original broadcast. It put the issues of homelessness to the forefront of people's minds, addressing a subject that was previously seen as taboo. The following year a charity, 'Crisis', was formed as a direct response to the show. The film also caused a review in the practice of separating wives from their husbands when in homeless shelters. Written by Jeremy Sandford, whose real life dealings with the homeless had inspired the screenplay, the film was shot realistically, shot on location, with many scenes unrehearsed. Sean and Steven (Cathy's sons) were played by Carol White's real sons of the same names. Loach admitted that White was unaware of what would happen in the final scene, making her reactions all the more genuine.

Filmed in a gritty, documentary style the film used extensive use of voice over narration, as different characters described their lives in the squalid conditions they found themselves in. The film is both humanising and harrowing, Cathy's helplessness is heartbreaking, and she pays the ultimate price for something that was not her fault. The film is an expose of the system, the cruelty of those in charge and the shocking conditions that many Britons were forced to live in. At the end of the film it states that in the years following the war Germany had built more houses for its expanding population than Britain. The film had such an impact that for years afterwards people would try and give Carol White money, believing she really was homeless. In 2000 the BFI voted it the second greatest British television program of the twentieth century.


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