The first part of Bill Douglas’ influential trilogy harks back to his impoverished upbringing in early-’40s Scotland. Cinema was his only escape – he paid for it with the money he made from returning empty jam jars – and this escape is reflected most closely at this time of his life as an eight-year-old living on the breadline with his half-brother and sick grandmother in a poor mining village.
Bill Douglas was born in 1934, in the Depression-hit mining village of Newcraighall outside Edinburgh. His early years were marked by hardship and poverty, later reflected in his films My Childhood and My Ain Folk. A temporary escape from this background came via the ‘other world’ found in the local cinema – he would collect and return used jam-jars to afford the price of admission. As he wrote in his 1978 essay ‘Palace of Dreams: The Making of a Film-Maker’:
“I hated reality. Of course I had to go to school – sometimes. And I had to go home and apply myself to the things one has to do. But the next picture, how to get in, was the thing that occupied my mind.”
Bill did National Service in the Royal Air Force, stationed in Egypt, where he met his lifelong friend Peter Jewell. After returning to Britain they kept in contact and shared a flat after Bill moved to London, where in the late 1950s he managed to break into acting with Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop company… read more
This film is unbearably bleak at times, yet so achingly beautiful. There is much plot, but rather impressionistic snippets of a childhood scarred by war, poverty, and death. You can feel the coal and soot, so atmospheric Douglas' direction is. I can't undervalue the strength of his images enough. Also Douglas' minimalism doesn't feel forced, but rather natural which is why this film works so well. Stark but amazing.