Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Seacoal (1985)

Courtesy of Amber Films

Main image of Seacoal (1985)
16mm, colour, 82 mins
Production CompanyAmber Films
In conjunction withChannel Four, Amber Production Team
Financial supportNorthern Arts

Cast: The Laidler Family, Trevor Critchlow, Val Waciak, Gordon Tait, John Cook, Stan Robinson (themselves); Amber Styles (Betty); Ray Stubbs (Ray); Corrina Stubbs (Corrina); Benny Graham (Joe)

Show full cast and credits

The men and women who for generations have eked a living from collecting 'seacoal' on the Northumberland coast find their way of life under threat.

Show full synopsis

Seacoal was Amber's first feature length film, and built upon earlier techniques and experiments to interweave a fictional narrative with documentary footage, and improvised and reconstructed dramatic scenes. The final film was the product of two years' working and living alongside the seacoalers.

The film presents an undoubtedly harsh way of life as one with dignity, and the seacoalers as a group with a strong sense of community and solidarity. It is this, and particularly the sense of solidarity amongst the women on the camp, that enables Betty (Amber Styles) to contemplate a life for herself and her daughter on the camp following the departure of the feckless Ray (Ray Stubbs).

In addition to this foregrounding of the dignity of labour, continuing the tradition of Amber's earlier documentary work, and of female solidarity, the film is also marked by Amber's characteristic lack of didacticism. While its sympathies clearly lay with the seacoalers and against the exploitation of the merchants who have bought the beach, it does not shy away from the harsh realities of the seacoalers' existence, and Ray's benefit scam is presented in such a way as to allow the audience to make its own moral judgement. In this respect, the integrity and openness of the narrative demonstrates Amber's typical respect not only for the film's subjects (the seacoalers) but also for its audience.

Seacoal also stands as an important social record of a disappearing way of life, as since the film was made the attitude of the local authorities and landowners towards the seacoalers has grown ever more hostile.

Martin Hunt

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Extract 1 (3:30)
Extract 2 (4:46)
Extract 3 (3:51)
Amber Collective (1969-)
Amber Films
Channel 4 and Film
From Pit to Screen
King Coal
Political Film