CATHY COME HOME. 1966. DIRECTED BY KEN LOACH. STARRING CAROL WHITE AND RAY BROOKS. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This starkly black-and-white docu-drama is not my usual Saturday night fare by a long shot, but it made for gripping viewing nonetheless. It tells the story of pretty blonde Cathy and her husband Reg as they struggle to find a home of their own in 1960’s Britain, which is apparently an unforgiving place to live if you happen to be young, poor and going nowhere fast.
Cathy and Reg marry when they’re much too young. They haven’t really got a clue what they’re letting themselves in for. Ken Loach’s hard-hitting film, made all the more powerful for the lack of colour, follows their progress as they move into a nice flat, then have to move quickly out again when Reg has an accident at work and has to go on sickness benefit.
Things quickly go from bad to worse. Living with Reg’s mum doesn’t work out for them because the two women butt heads incessantly, as two women will do when they find themselves sharing the same space.
Evicted from their next place for non-payment of rent, Cathy, Reg and their kids find themselves living in, among other places, a derelict building, a tent and a caravan. The mind boggles at the unfairness and grimness of it all.
The footage of the caravan-dwellers, termed ‘gypsies’ and ‘layabouts’ by judgemental locals, is upsetting in the extreme. The bit about caravan-dwellers being burned out of their homes and having rocks flung through their windows is horrible to watch.
Cathy and Reg begin to despair of ever finding a home to call their own. The film shows Cathy knocking on doors looking for a flat to rent with her kids hanging out of her, only to have the doors slammed in her face because kids aren’t welcome. I don’t understand that. Kids not welcome? That makes no sense to me.
Finally, the inevitable happens. Cathy and her kiddies are forced to go into emergency accommodation, where they are referred to as ‘inmates’ and ‘you homeless’ and have to share limited space and resources with dozens of other women and children. Husbands are not allowed.
It’s the beginning of the end for Cathy and Reg. They drift further and further apart until eventually Reg disappears out of the picture altogether. (I never liked that Reg, with his teddy-boy hairstyle and financial irresponsibility. I’m just saying, that’s all. Cathy’s the real rock in this little family, as was often the way in the grim post-war years.)
Cathy, who is deemed a troublemaker in the home because she speaks up for herself, is told that her time in the home is up and that if she can’t find accommodation for herself and her kids, the children will be taken away from her. The welfare system is portrayed as being hard, unfeeling and unbending and its operatives unsympathetic. One feels for the people who must throw themselves at their ‘mercy.’
The ending is heartbreaking. Carol White gives a powerhouse of a performance as the gutsy but ultimately downtrodden and defeated Cathy. Apparently, when this film was first shown in Britain in 1966, a quarter of the entire population was glued to it. I’m not surprised. It caused questions to be asked in government and it even played a part in promoting the launch of the new housing charity, SHELTER.That’s how compelling and powerful a production it is.
Ironically, though completely by accident, I watched this film on the -th anniversary of my moving into my own home. It made me grateful for what I have.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based performance poet, novelist, film blogger, sex blogger and short story writer. She has given more than 200 performances of her comedy sex-and-relationship poems in different venues around Dublin, including The Irish Writers’ Centre, The International Bar, Toners’ Pub (Ireland’s Most Literary Pub), the Ha’penny Inn, Le Dernier Paradis at the Trinity Inn and The Strokestown Poetry Festival.
Her articles, short stories and poems have appeared in The Metro-Herald newspaper, Ireland’s Big Issues magazine, The Irish Daily Star, The Irish Daily Sun and The Boyne Berries literary journal. In August 2014, she won the ONE LOVELY BLOG award for her (lovely!) horror film review blog. She is addicted to buying books and has been known to bring home rain-washed tomes she finds on the street and give them a home.
She is the proud possessor of a pair of unfeasibly large bosoms. They have given her- and the people around her- infinite pleasure over the years. She adores the horror genre in all its forms and will swap you anything you like for Hammer Horror or JAWS memorabilia. She would also be a great person to chat to about the differences between the Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Cut of The Wicker Man. You can contact her at: