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In Two Minds (1967)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of In Two Minds (1967)
For The Wednesday Play, BBC, tx. 1/3/1967
75 mins, black & white
DirectorKen Loach
ProducerTony Garnett
ScriptDavid Mercer

Cast: Anna Cropper (Kate Winter); George A. Cooper (Mr Winter); Helen Booth (Mrs Booth); Christine Hargreaves (Mary Winter); Adrienne Frame (Hairdresser); Peter Ellis (Jake)

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A young girl, from a dysfunctional family, is diagnosed as schizophrenic after an attack on her mother.

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David Mercer's play was broadcast at a time when several TV writers were deliberately - and controversially - blurring the distinctions between fact and fiction. Unlike Mercer's highly stylised The Parachute (BBC, tx. 21/1/1968), In Two Minds (tx. 1/3/1968) was told in a documentary style and directed by arch realist Ken Loach, who had already made the groundbreaking Cathy Come Home (BBC, tx. 16/11/1966) and Up the Junction (BBC, tx. 3/11/1965). The success of the documentary style fooled many into forgetting that they were watching works of fiction.

Mercer's play caused a sensation. Senior psychiatric experts fell over themselves to claim that Kate (Anna Cropper) was not schizophrenic but 'merely' hysterical and depressed - like a vast proportion of the population, who exhibited similar symptoms. They found the play irresponsible and objected to the way some of the staff who treat Kate were portrayed. Mercer himself had been hospitalised after a nervous breakdown and had first-hand experience of psychoanalysis. The controversy was such that he appeared on the TV arts programme Late Night Line Up (BBC, 1964-72) to deny that he had any particular theory or practice in mind, but fellow dramatist Dennis Potter, writing in the New Statesman, pointed out that the play "completely supported the arguments and theories of R.D. Laing, who believes that schizophrenia is more a particular style of communication than an organic disease of the brain". Mercer had drawn on Laing's book, Sanity and Madness in the Family for the play, and was thus accused of making propaganda and not art.

Mercer's device of the unseen questioner expertly drew the viewers in, "as colluding participants rather than cool observers" (Potter again). Mercer ruthlessly and cleverly exposes the hypocrisy of Kate's terrible mother, her father's weakness, and her sister's selfishness. Between them, they have so eroded Kate's confidence and self-esteem that she is incapable of taking control of her own life, and she is trapped in an increasingly suffocating existence as she grows to adulthood. Mercer builds towards his highly dramatic ending most effectively by showing so vividly the effects of this home life on her behaviour, so that the doctor's cool assertion to his students comes as a great shock. The ending is more hopeful than the later film version (Family Life, d. Loach, 1971), as the medical students gradually question and challenge the doctor's conclusions; the film stops before the students have a chance to speak.

Janet Moat

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Video Clips
1. Mother knows best (3:22)
2. Family reunion (3:28)
3. Kate in the hospital (3:19)
4. Words of advice (3:03)
Family Life (1971)
Garnett, Tony (1936-)
Loach, Ken (1936-)
Mercer, David (1928-1980)
Smith, Neville (1940-)
Wednesday Play, The (1964-70)