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View from the Woodpile, The (1989)

Courtesy of Channel Four Television

Main image of View from the Woodpile, The (1989)
For Eleventh Hour, Central Independent Television for Channel 4, tx. 12/6/1989
60 minutes, colour
DirectorKen Loach
Executive ProducerRoger James
ProducerKen Loach
PhotographyBarry Ackroyd
 Robin Probyn

Cast: Jimmi Dunn, Paul Harp, Steve Page, Caroline White, Roy 'Beastie' Stokes

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Members of the West Midlands-based Young Foundry theatre group give their own responses to youth unemployment and the lack of opportunities following the collapse of local industry.

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The View from the Woodpile was made for Central Television in 1988, but was rejected by Central and remained on the shelf for almost a year, before Channel 4 showed it as part of its Eleventh Hour strand (1982-88). It tells the story of the West Midlands-based Young Foundry theatre group, who act out a series of scenes reflecting the unemployment, homelessness and drug abuse that is rife in the local area. Theatre director Simon Lanzon is seen occasionally, but Loach concentrates on the youthful members of the group, rather than any other controlling influences, and this, alongside the music of anarchist band Chumbawamba, gives the film a very raw feel.

Loach allows the group members to tell the stories that are important to them, and the strength of The View from the Woodpile is in the variety of forms they use to convey their concerns. From their self-penned stage play to a witty parody of the latest Youth Training Scheme advert, the group show versatility and energy. For all that, the most powerful scenes involve the youngsters simply talking to locals about the past, now destroyed, industry in the area. The woodpile of the title lies at the back of Darlaston Baths, where the pithead, lime kilns and foundry once stood. Here, the group enact a scene about unemployment and glue-sniffing; the hopelessness of the subject matter perfectly reflects the bleak setting.

One of the young performers, Stephen Page, went on to have some success as an actor, and even made an appearance in the US TV drama Lost. However the appeal of The View from the Woodpile lies not in talent spotting, but in the group's enthusiasm and political engagement despite the economic ravages visited on their home town. Loach chooses to end the film with some footage of riot police on training manoeuvres in the local area, accompanied by a voiceover from a youth indicating that sooner or later a battle will come between the force of the State and the "thinking generation". This shrewd observation was borne out by the riots that spread across the country only a couple of years after transmission, and the even more recent outbreak of civil disobedience in England lends this film a sharply topical edge.

John Williams

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Video Clips
1. Made redundant (5:20)
2. Life on the Youth Training Scheme (4:20)
3. Police training (5:15)
Talk About Work (1971)
Question of Leadership, A (1980)
Ackroyd, Barry (1954-)
Loach, Ken (1936-)
Ken Loach: Documentaries