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Bred and Born (1983)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

The East End of London in the early 1980s. A woman reads a poem describing the stability and omnipresence of maternal love in one's life. A documentary filmmaker prepares to interview four generations of working-class women from the same family. At the same time, a women's discussion group addresses mother and daughter relations. There are shots of sociology textbooks on family and kinship in the East End which the documentarian is using to ground her study. On the estate where they live, the women stand formally grouped in family portraits or chat together informally. In a laundrette, the women read sections from the sociology primer that purports to describe the relationships of working-class mothers and daughters in the East End. Another filmmaker muses on the power relations between documentary-makers and their subjects.

The documentary-maker, in costume, reads an address by the headmistress of a turn-of-the-century girls' school, articulating attitudes about the special destiny of women as the linchpin of the family unit. The speech is intercut with snatches of the women's reminiscences of their mothers and grandmothers doing washing and making ends meet. Images of the interior of the school mingle with archive stills of East End women working at home or in menial occupations.

Following this are interviews conducted by the filmmaker with the four women at their homes. She asks simple, pre-formulated questions, perhaps obtained from her reference books. In response to the women's own questions, she speaks a little about her own mother, and the disparity in class and lifestyle between herself, an unmarried professional, and the interviewees.

Over images from a moving bus, in which the daughters of the family visit their mother and grandmother, the narrator recalls a Sunday visit to their home, in which family memories were circulated. There is an extended account of the mother's courtship and marriage.

The film concludes with more sequences of the mothers and daughters discussion group. These sequences are black and white, while the interview and local history element of the film is in colour. As the film was made over a period of several years, the women's appearances change, as do their attitudes towards their roles as wives and mothers. In the end, they no longer appear as semi-passive interview subjects, but speak forthrightly, expressing their views on the constricting nature of those roles, and how things could be different.