Liam is set in working class Liverpool during the depression of the 1930s. It is one of a number of recent films, such as Billy Elliott and Ratcatcher, which attempt to realistically portray social conditions and working class life. The script is by Jimmy McGovern-who wrote excellent TV dramas about the Hillsborough tragedy and the Liverpool dockers.
And it stars Ian Hart, who was also in Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom. The Liam of the film’s title is the seven year old son of the Sullivan family struggling to survive the depression, at a time when there was no welfare state. When Liam’s dad-a skilled shipbuilder-is laid off from the docks, the family are plunged into a nightmare of scrabbling to find food and rent money as the debts rise.
He is faced with daily humiliation, forced to beg for a day’s work and to survive on the wages of his children. He becomes increasingly embittered and blames foreigners, mainly the Irish, for his plight.
He sinks and drifts into the British Union of Fascists (BUF). Liam attends a Catholic school and is drilled daily about the sins of the flesh where redemption is only possible through submission to the church. One such ‘sin’ causes Liam to lose the ability to speak properly. Yet the sins of the father are greater.
He becomes a fully fledged fascist Blackshirt, and cannot take the fact that his daughter is a maid to a rich Jewish household. This is the film’s climax, but it is also its weakness. Although the BUF did attract some workers like Sullivan, its members were mainly small businessmen.
The backbone of the BUF was the people the revolutionary Leon Trotsky described as ‘human dust’, crushed between workers and big business. Another problem is that the only Jews in the film are stereotypes-the rich boss, the pawnbroker and the rent collector. Only the elder son, who attends socialist meetings, offers any hint of the struggle of workers against fascism in the 1930s. The film is well scripted, with wonderful actors, but unfortunately gives us little insight into the dark era of the depression.
A quietly evocative film
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