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Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988)


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!

Distant Voices: Inside a terraced house, a mother prepares breakfast for her family to the sound of the shipping forecast on the Home Service. On her wedding day, elder daughter Eileen wishes that her dead father were present. Her sister, Maisie, remembers their father refusing to let her go dancing, making her scrub the cellar floor, and beating her with a shovel. Their brother, Tony, recalls an occasion when he went AWOL from National Service, smashed a window with his bare fists and begged his father - to no avail - to go for a drink with him. Eileen remembers herself and her feisty friend, Micky, asking her father for five shillings to go dancing, and his agreeing.

After the wedding, as the family celebrates at the pub, Eileen relives tender family moments with a loving father: praying in church, decorating the house at Christmas. But the recollections end with the father, in a fury, pulling the cloth off a fully-laid Christmas tea table. Tony is called home on compassionate leave as his father lies dying. As a child, Maisie watches her mother cleaning an upstairs window, anxious that she might fall. Mother explains to the children that she married their father because he was a good dancer. They witness him beating her. The children rush to a shelter during an air raid, and father makes them sing a song. In a moment of happiness, they secretly watch their father as he contentedly grooms his horse.

Eileen's friend Jingles arrives at the wedding party, and together they recollect a brief trip they made together to work as waitresses in a North Wales hotel, and remember that Eileen had been called back home when her father was taken ill. Eileen tells Maisie and Tony that she feels no different now that she is married, but it soon becomes apparent that her husband will try to stop her from seeing her female friends.

Still Lives: The family gathers in church for the christening of Maisie's baby. On a Sunday lunchtime, Maisie and her husband listen to the Light Programme on the radio. Family and friends celebrate the baby's christening in the pub. Micky arrives with her new husband, Red. Jingles joins the party briefly, but is dragged away, in tears, by her husband. On another occasion, while Maisie and Eileen are at the pictures, Maisie's husband and Tony fall off a scaffold and end up in hospital. Tony gets married. At his wedding party he stands outside the house, weeping.