FAMILY LIFE (aka: WEDNESDAY”S CHILD)
(director: Ken Loach; screenwriter: David Mercer/from Mr. Mercer’s TV play In Two Minds; cinematographer: Charles Stewart; editor: Roy Watts; music: Marc Wilkinson; cast: Sandy Ratcliff (Janice Baildon), Bill Dean (Mr. John Baildon), Grace Cave (Mrs. Vera Baildon), Malcolm Tierney (Tim), Hilary Martin (Barbara Baildon), Michael Riddall (Dr. Donaldson), Alan MacNaughtan (Mr. Caswell), Johnny Gee (Man in Garden); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Tony Garnett; Cinema 5 Distributing; 1971-UK)
“Has something urgent to say.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Ken Loach’s (“Poor Cow”/”Kes”) gloomy, painful, and realistic Brit drama is adapted by David Mercer from his own TV play In Two Minds. It’s filmed as a fictional documentary that follows the pressures of family relations on a weak-willed 19-year-old girl, Janice Baildon (Sandy Ratcliff), who lives comfortably at home with her seemingly reasonable parents–her hard-working and stern father (Bill Dean) and old-fashioned and overbearing mother (Grace Cave). Janice has become increasingly withdrawn, rebellious, unable to hold a job for long, and pregnant. Her parents find no fault with themselves but blame everything on their daughter’s inability to act responsible and the new permissive society in Great Britain. The parents force her to get an abortion and then seek psychological help for their daughter’s deteriorating mental condition (alarmed over her recent nervous breakdown, as a police officer has to take her home when she took ill on the tube station; also that she stays out all night without their permission).
Janice is placed in a public mental institution where she receives some help through the counseling of psychologist Dr. Donaldson (Michael Riddall), a follower of R.D. Laing (he wrote Knots, decrying the way schizophrenics were treated with chemicals and other harsh treatments to get them to conform to society). But Donaldson is dismissed when the hospital board doesn’t renew his contract even though his experimental ideas seem to be doing good and he’s judged as an original and competent doctor. Janice is then treated with drugs and electric-shock therapy, and her individualism is reduced as she becomes an almost lifeless figure.
The social conscious drama is all over the family for creating such a hostile environment, where it’s shown that Janice’s older sister Barbara survived only because she ran away from home. Loach also severely attacks Britain’s mental health system for its witchcraft practices of treating the mentally ill in these modern times.
As a film with a strong message it succeeds, though some might be put off by how it doesn’t give the other side a fair chance to respond. Since I’m convinced Loach is on the right side, I had no problem with how he over-simplifies the issues and how unmercifully he slaps around the opposition. These things had to be said in public for the common-good, as the appeal of the film is not because it’s entertaining but because it has something urgent to say.
REVIEWED ON 2/27/2005 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/