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My Childhood (1972)


Main image of My Childhood (1972)
16mm, black and white, 45 mins
DirectorBill Douglas
Production CompanyBritish Film Institute Production Board
ProducerGeoffrey Evans
ScreenplayBill Douglas
PhotographyMick Campbell

Cast: Stephen Archibald (Jamie); Hughie Restorick (Tommy); Jean Taylor Smith (grandmother); Karl Fieseler (Helmuth); Bernard Mckenna (Tommy's father)

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In a Scottish mining village in 1945, a friendship develops between an 8-year-old boy, Jamie and a German prisoner of war.

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My Childhood (1972) was the first of three films based on director Bill Douglas' memories of his own impoverished childhood in the Scottish mining village of Newcraighall. Made immediately after Douglas had graduated from the London Film School, on its release it was greeted with considerable critical acclaim. It went on to win several awards, including the Silver Lion at Venice, but only a small place in broader accounts of British cinema.

One brief scene begins with a shot of a bunch of withered flowers, followed by four shots of Jamie (whose childhood the film narrates) throwing the flowers on the floor, pouring water from a kettle into the cup that held the flowers, pouring out the water, and then kneeling in front of his grandmother and easing her cold fingers around the warmed cup. The scene is striking for a precision of editing suggestive of Soviet montage, and an austerity partly attributable to the limited funding available from the newly reorganised BFI Production Board, but also to the impoverished setting, black-and-white photography, sparse camera movement and absence of dialogue and music.

The use of locations and non-professional actors might suggest an example of British realism, but My Childhood fits uneasily within a tradition of documentation and social observation. The film's harsh, unsentimental, but also intensely felt and moving portrait of childhood is encapsulated in the seeming callousness of Jamie throwing the flowers on the floor, followed by the tenderness of the final close-up of two pairs of hands.

Guy Barefoot

*This film is included in the BFI DVD and Blu-ray compilations The Bill Douglas Trilogy.

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Video Clips
1. Opening scenes (7:42)
2. By the grave (1:30)
3. An air raid (3:51)
4. Celebrations (5:48)
Complete film (44:31)
Original Trilogy poster
Production stills
Comrades (1986)
My Ain Folk (1973)
My Way Home (1978)
Douglas, Bill (1934-1991)
Children on Film
Social Realism
The BFI Production Board: The Features
They Started Here