The Happy Lands  (2012)    85/100

Rating :   85/100                       Treasure Chest                     108 Min        12

A Scottish film from Edinburgh based production company Theatre Workshop, focusing on the 1926 Miner’s strike in Fife (the East coast region between the rivers Tay and Forth), which was in itself part of a larger worker’s strike throughout the United Kingdom playing a hugely important role in the Labour and trade union movement in the 20th century. The film manages that most difficult of things for any historical drama – balancing the importance of the event from a socio-political standpoint, and also relating the events to us in a believable and human way, evoking genuine emotional empathy for the characters onscreen.

The cast seems to be comprised of a mix of experienced and new actors alike, but they all unanimously do a great job – Jokie Wallace in particular as both the local magistrate and the principal organiser of the strike. In fact, for anyone wanting to gain more exposure to the Scots language, this is a very good film to practice with as a lot of the vocabulary that features is in common usage throughout the land and here both the pronunciation and the sound quality are excellent (the film is subtitled in English, much like ‘Trainspotting’ 96 was for American audiences).

Initially, and for the close of the film, we are shown interviews with the cast, talking about the impact the events told had on their forefathers and how they, by extension, have had an effect on their own lives and their shared heritage. The dramatisation that forms the movie’s heart focuses on the friendly local community that brings the strike to the fore, a community where nobody felt the need to lock their doors and who immortalised the slogan ‘Not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day’ after mine bosses attempted to squeeze them for all they were worth.

It’s a story that is incredibly relevant for today, with the right wing eroding worker’s rights up and down the country once again, all in the name of their own profit with the ‘economic crisis’ the perfect excuse for a carte blanche attack on civil rights and liberties, and the continual extension of privatisation allowing the few to abuse the many who enjoy worse public services charged at ever higher rates, although this is something that Scotland has the opportunity to end in tomorrow’s independence referendum … Films like this are wonderfully educational with regards to the long fight people had for the rights that we now take for granted, the same principals that the Tory party in Britain, and the right wing further afield, are doing their best to obliterate. I don’t really understand why this didn’t get a much bigger general release when it came out (political reasons?) but for very good companion pieces to this see Ken Loach’s wonderful ‘The Spirit of ‘45’ (13) and the recent Polish film ‘Walesa – Man of Hope’, and to be honest there were moments in this that brought me uncomfortably close to actually shedding a tear.

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