My Father and Me

 

 

 

Nick Broomfield's latest finds him on home ground.

 
My Father and Me

 

No other film made by the veteran documentarist Nick Broomfield has been quite as personal as this one, not even the splendid Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love (2019) which revealed that he himself had played a part in the life of its subject, Leonard Cohen's muse Marianne Ihlen. The explanation for this is simple enough: the filmmaker is the 'me' of the title and the prime focus here is the life and work of Nick's father, Maurice, who died in 2010 at the age of 94.

 

As a teenager Maurice Broomfield worked on the production line of Rolls-Royce in Derbyshire and, having grown up to become a photographer, he would make a special name for himself in the post-war years for his images of British industry. This documentary lets us see many of these pictures and Maurice's fame was such that there is plenty of archive footage of him available alongside many photos and home movies, the latter all the more readily to hand since this is his son's film. Given that Nick Broomfield often appears in his own documentaries, it is no surprise that it should be his voice that features most on the soundtrack and at times My Father and Me plays like a double biopic since it includes scenes from several of Nick's films and contributions from his sometime co-director Joan Churchill, the mother of Nick's son Barney Broomfield who is one of the photographers here.

 

However, it is important to point out that in fact the main purpose of incorporating material about Nick is to bring out the contrast between him and his father. As one would expect of this filmmaker, he offers an honest portrait which does not gloss over uncomfortable truths about his family. One such is the fact that Maurice's mother did not welcome the idea that her son should marry a foreigner, a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia. He is equally candid about his own conflicts with his father which in their case stemmed largely from not understanding each other's work. Nick saw Maurice's paintings as romanticised views of industrial life while the father, whose pictures were always perfectly composed, could not approve of Nick's documentary style which sought to capture gritty truths without caring too much about the composition of the images. Their conflicted feelings about an early photo by Nick of a donkey seen behind a fence neatly encapsulates the different outlook of father and son.

 

Happily, in later life Maurice and Nick developed a close bond. Nick, who regards his father as having always been a perfectionist in his art, came to appreciate his father's work for its historical value in recording an age that had passed and also for its expression of the pride in their work felt by workers in industry in those far-off times. Away from the art, we learn much about Maurice and his family and about the depression that was caused by the loss of his wife, Sonja, to cancer at the age of 59. How good it is to learn from this film that Maurice was to have an Indian summer both personally and professionally (long after his retirement his photographs would be taken up again and shown in exhibitions and, indeed, it is due to be shown in London at the V&A commencing later this year). 

 

My Father and Me is a very able piece and, if never quite on the level of Nick Broomfield's very best work, it certainly achieves its object of bringing Maurice Broomfield's art to the attention of a new audience in a very effective way. A sentiment that surely appealed to Maurice is touched on in the film when we glimpse a written declaration that old photographers never die but just go out of focus. This film stands as an extra assurance that Maurice's own work will in contrast to that continue to remain in focus.

  

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Nick Broomfield, Joan Churchill, Suzy Broomfield, Barney Broomfield, Ethel Singleton, Leonard Batten, Emily Graham, Hannah Redler, and archive footage of Maurice Bloomfield and Sonja Broomfield.

                                                                                                                

Dir Nick Broomfield, Pro Kyle Gibbon, Shani Hinton and Marc Hoeferlin, Ph Barney Broomfield, Sam Mitchell, Marc Hoeferlin and Tristan Copeland, Ed Joe Siegal, Music Nick Laird-Clowes.

 

Lafayette Films/BBC/Kew Media-BBC.
94 mins. UK. 2019. Rel: 20 March 2021. Showing on BBC 2 on 20th March 2021 and to become available on iPlayer.  No Cert.