Saturday, 4 July 2015
The 14 (1973)
Based on a true story, The 14 is a rare and rather shamefully forgotten 1973 film from actor turned director David Hemmings tells the tale of the titular 14 children who struggle against the odds to remain together after the death of their single mother. It may not be Cathy Come Home but it certainly skirts the melodrama and mawkish sentimentality that would beset such a tale told by Hollywood, and Hemmings delivers an interesting documentarian, neo-realist approach, using young juvenile untrained actors alongside Oliver! star, Jack Wild.
Wild stars as Reg, at 17 he is the eldest of the unruly 14 children who live in a soon to be redeveloped rundown terraced street in London’s East End. When his mother - played by Dot Cotton herself June Brown - suddenly dies and her feckless boyfriend (played by Alun Armstrong) ups and leaves, it's up to Reg to keep his family together and provide for them in keeping with his mother's last wish. They face challenges right from the off, with social services installing a guardian (played by Anna Wing, another EastEnders stalwart) and sending them to a Catholic reform school and on to a technical school were it is hoped the older boys will learn a trade. On reaching 18, Reg escapes social services attentions himself and reunited with Reena, his single mother girlfriend played by Cheryl Hall, determined to round up his siblings to spend one last ideal Christmas together.
This was the second film to be directed by David Hemmings and was a Silver Bear winner at the Berlin International Film Festival. It's a real shame that Hemmings became something of a journeyman for Ozpolitation in the late 70s and US TV drama across the 80s as he shows real talent here telling this true life tale, based on the real story of Birmingham orphans who were eventually relocated as a family to a Cornish farm, with a beguiling mixture of anarchic glee and an authentic exploration of the bleak, squalid conditions his characters find themselves in. But of course, no matter how bleak the slum their East End home was it was nevertheless their family home and as such, to their eyes, the only place they ever wanted to be. Almost every home they are subsequently placed in comes up short.
There are extremely minor weaknesses in The 14 that I feel hold it back from being a little masterpiece; specifically the understandable lack of identity to each and every one of the children makes it hard to truly comprehend who is who - it's very hard to make a film with 14 lead characters I guess, plus I do feel at 102 minutes its a teensy bit overlong, but these are just small complaints towards what is an enjoyable film that I without reservation will give a big like to and I recommend catching if you can.