My Father and Me
Documentary by Nick Broomfield
Showing nationally as part of the British Film Festival
In the decades following the 1940s, photographer Maurice Broomfield made his name chronicling the development of British industry in its post-war boom. His huge catalogue of works is beautiful, each picture flawlessly crafted to exalt the dignity of labour and the liberatory power of modern industry.
Broomfield’s son, Nick, followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a maker of socially conscious documentary films. As narrated here, father and son had a sometimes fraught relationship as Nick sought to establish himself outside of his father’s shadow.
My Father and Me is a very tender family portrait in which Nick Broomfield comes to terms with his father, the social forces that formed him while demonstrating the excellence of his father’s works.
Maurice Broomfield was a product of a socially intense, very poor working-class town in the north of England. To advance himself he had to break from the community, move to London and shed his northern accent.
However, he never lost his reverence for the nobility of the working class.
His work was clearly influenced by the social-realist photography of Soviet constructivists, such as Aleksander Rodchenko and the United States New Deal photographers such as Dorothea Lange. But Broomfield brought an artist’s eye to his work, carefully staging and lighting his subjects to bring drama and humanity.
Nick rejected the formality of his father’s style, endeavouring for spontaneity in his films, reaching to capture the unstructured moment. Hence the sometimes sharp artistic, personal and political difficulties between them.
But My Father and Me is far more than an account of Oedipal competition. In telling his father’s story Nick goes far back into the economic and cultural forces that shaped his parents and grandparents.
And so we witness the transition from rural communities into the crowded factory towns, those communities’ intense and stifling relationships and the personal costs of rupture as individuals ascended the social ladder into middle class security.
And we also witness the effects of the Thatcherite deindustrialisation that was designed to smash the power of unionised labour.
Effectively, Nick Broomfield has applied historical materialism to his family narrative, locating his own story in the stream of history and explaining how the individuals involved came to articulate themselves and their times.
The story is touching and engrossing and, with the repeated references to his father’s photography, it is magnificent.