Sunday, 15 September 2013

Thursday's Children (1954) - Lindsay Anderson

Along with most Brits of a certain age I have a special place in my heart for Lindsay Anderson. Film critic, director, and most importantly of all the individual that gave British film a much needed kick up the arse back in the mid 50s as the founding father of the Free Cinema movement. He didn’t make all that many films, but when he did they were always, always, worth seeing. However, as much as I adore If...., This Sporting Life and Britannia Hospital, it’s his documentary shorts O Dreamland and Thursday’s Children that I return to time and time again. Both were shot in the British seaside town of Margate, and have a pull on me that I can’t really explain.

The better of the two is Thursday’s Children, which is about a school for deaf children. Every time I watch it (which is at least once a year), I cry. A lot. Narrated by Richard Burton using his best earthy brown vocals and lensed by the legendary Walter Lassally, it packs a lot into it’s brief 25 minute running time. We get to meet various children and two of their teachers. We see how they learn to form sounds and words, slowly. Very slowly.

It’s a painful watch, since as the documentary unfolds you can't help but wonder what is going to become of these poor kids? What does the future hold for them? Remember this is 1950s Britain, so any real sort of understanding of their disability from the general public is going to be a hard won battle. It’s heartbreaking to think about. The kids in the film are so happy and full of life, so much so that I can’t help thinking that once they leave school (where they live too), that their happiness will be quickly knocked out of them by the harshness of the outside world.

Back in the mid 80s, my junior school had a deaf unit. None of the children from that deaf unit were accepted by the other kids in the school, they were treated as outcasts and mainly used as a punchline for many cruel jokes. I got to know one of the kids, Robert. He was a sweet guy who lived down the road from my nan. Maybe it’s this memory that makes Thursday’s Children such an emotional watch for me?

Thursday’s Children picked up the Oscar for Best Documentary (Short Subject) at the 1954 Academy Awards. Which is neither here nor there really, but it does show that it had appeal outside of Great Britain, and probably allowed it to reach a far greater audience than a film like this should have any hope of finding. Whenever I watch it I can’t help but wonder what happened to all the kids? How did their lives turn out? How are Dennis, Linda or Katherine doing? I’ll never find out, I know that, but it never stops me from wondering. If you’ve never seen this, then you really should. It’s even on YouTube, so there’s no excuse. Just be ready to shed some tears.

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