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Like Father (2000)

Courtesy of Amber Films

Main image of Like Father (2000)
35mm, colour, 94 mins
DirectorAmber Street Collective
Production CompanyAmber Films
Script CollaboratorRoger Hyams
Original MusicJoe Armstrong

Cast: Jonathon Dent (Michael Elliott); Anna Maria Gascoigne (Carol Elliott); Derek Walmsley (David Hylton); Willie Ross (Willie); B.J. Hogg (Brian)

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Ex-miner Joe struggles to make a living while his relationships with his wife, son and father falter. Meanwhile, Joe's father confronts Council plans to build over the allotment where he keeps his pigeons.

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Like Father is Amber's most accomplished narrative film to date, blending themes and styles with a confidence gained from earlier, more faltering attempts such as In Fading Light (1989) and The Scar (1997), and with a series of outstanding performances, not only from Ned Kelly (Arthur), Joe Armstrong (Joe), Jonathon Dent (Michael) and Anna Gascoigne (Carol) in the central roles, but also from those in the supporting roles, such as Amber regulars Brian Hogg and Amber Styles. Joe Armstrong also deserves great credit for a marvellous brass band score.

As with many of its predecessors, Like Father was two years in the making as cast and crew immersed themselves in the local community, and a number of the sequences, such as Joe's music lesson at the community centre, were shot before the script was written, incorporating this and other sequences, as well as the result of interviews and conversations with local people.

The film draws upon many of the themes of Amber's previous work dealing with communities, industries, and ways of life under threat, interweaving the personal and the political with genuine social authenticity and considerable emotional force. As with earlier films, Like Father avoids heavy-handed sloganising and presents no pat and patronising solutions to the personal and social dilemmas raised. It makes its points quietly, and is all the more effective for that, and challenges its audience to think as well as feel.

In one remarkable, supremely cinematic sequence, Joe parks his car outside a local newsagent. From a shot inside the shop looking out at a forlorn Joe, we see a birthday card 'To a Special Husband - Happy Birthday'. It is, we know, Joe's 40th birthday, and he is estranged from his family. Cutting to an exterior shot, as he looks in the shop window, we see a poster for 'Mining and Music - a display of mining memorabilia with music and song'. As Joe leaves, the camera pans to children playing on an old pit-head wheel, no longer symbolic of a thriving industry, but rather a piece of urban art. Wordlessly, the personal and the political, the private and the social, are synthesised and thrown into stark relief in a moment of pure cinema. Thus far, in thirty years, have Amber come.

Martin Hunt

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Video Clips
1. Opening scenes (4:15)
2. Joe (4:44)
3. The brass band (3:45)
Amber Collective (1969-)
Amber Films
Social Realism