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Time to Heal, A (1963)


Main image of Time to Heal, A (1963)
35mm, black and white, 40 mins
DirectorDerrick Knight
Production CompanyDerrick Knight & Partners
SponsorsNational Coal Board
 Coal Industry Social Welfare Organization
ScriptDerrick Knight
PhotographyPeter Jessop

A look at some of the 3000 men who go through miners' rehabilitation centres each year, of whom 19 out of every 20 go back to mining.

Show full synopsis

The Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation (CISWO) was an independent body supervised jointly by the National Coal Board (NCB) and the mining unions which, among other things, ran rehabilitation centres for injured mineworkers, including one at Talygarn, Glamorgan, where A Time to Heal was filmed. Derrick Knight's production was the last major film entrusted by the Board to an outside producer, and is, it's fair to say, highly untypical of NCB output.

Knight here presided over an unprecedented fusion, of the venerable British sponsored film of social and industrial purpose, with the lighter equipment and pioneering techniques of youthful American and Canadian documentary film. In two words: Direct Cinema. Knight's experiment was made possible by access to a rudimentary mobile 16mm camera (and fast film stocks) new to the UK, though his budget was notably smaller than those enjoyed by the best-known north American filmmakers. In truth, there are moments of staging in the film: principally, the opening accident which is necessarily set up, though filmed in a naturalistic thick-of-things style suiting the more 'pure' observational sequences.

While it might be tempting to place traditional and newer documentary forms in hollow competition, we're better off recognising that both can be used brilliantly or badly, as circumstances and talent allow. Common in the best examples of both is modulation of mood. Knight cuts from set pieces to private moments, extended scenes to snatched vignettes. He alternates quiet, subtle and intelligent conversations between miners with those in which their bravado and bonhomie predominate, and others in which they encounter officialdom. He also avoids the worst risk of observational filmmaking - that it will become boringly prosaic. The structural basis of the film (which some thought confusing) is the contrast between its opening, focused on a single miner, with the long central section at Talygarn in which he has disappeared into a collective and somewhat dreamlike world cut off from the everyday. The snowy ground of the opening has already lent the film a melancholy yet captivating atmosphere.

The soundtrack features the singing of Bob Davenport, a significant minor figure in the folk revival movement. CISWO ran rehabilitation centres across the coalfields, and the imposition of Geordie folksong (rather than choral singing) on Welsh images lends the film a more universal resonance - of practical importance in 1963, and still poignant in retrospect.

Patrick Russell

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-War Britain 1951-1977'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Miners' hardships (4:22)
2. Healing limbs (3:39)
3. Seconds up, boys! (2:08)
Complete film (36:20)
Mining Review 1/11: Dust - Rehabilitation (1948)
Mining Review 1/9: Dust - Medical Report (1948)
Mining Review 2/3: Miners' Health Centre (1948)
Postwar Documentary