‘Cathy Comes Home’ – How far do the portrayals of the officials as heartless and the ‘likeable’ main characters make this documentary biased and propagandist? The documentary ‘Cathy Comes Home’ was purposely made to raise awareness of the housing situations going on in 1966, and highlighted the difficulties of living. This is shown through the eyes of Cathy, a young woman battling against poverty but slides into homelessness while at the same time having a growing family to support and care for.
The opening shot is an image of Cathy waiting to cross a road.
There is a typical, happy 60’s song acting as a non-diagetic background song underneath the sound of traffic driving past, which we can also see, moving across the shot. Cathy’s facial expressions are happy and carefree, which creates a good impression to the viewer and this portrayal continues throughout the documentary. We learn more about this character once she is looking at the town around her whilst in a car, with a voice-over on the clip.
She informs the viewer of her thoughts on the town and her past experiences there of being touched up by a man for example, leading the viewer to believe she may have had a tough life so far. Quick shots of the town’s people notifies the viewer that this is a working class area with a range of average citizens. So the documentary will most likely be in relation to this type of people. The positive image of Cathy is enhanced when we see her enjoying young love with her boyfriend, Reg.
While close up’s of them kissing are showing on the screen, romantic music is playing in the background to give a happy and comfortable feeling. We then see them together walking through a park talking about their bright future ahead of them however the camera moves down as they do this to show a homeless man sleeping on a bench. This sends the viewer an underlying message of poverty and that Cathy and Reg’s happiness will be short lived. There is next a voice over as they move into their new home, a well-established, expensive development after getting married and having plans for a happy life.
The next stage in their life, having a baby, is usually seen as a wonderful part of life, however there is a subtle, unnerving sense that something is going to go wrong because it acts as a shock to her and then conversations of money begin to arise between the couple. The first instance where we find an official is when Cathy is at an interview about finding a house to live in, as she couldn’t stay at the house her and her husband were living in. A point of view shot is used here to look over the man’s shoulder at Cathy’s worried facial expressions as she is informed of the struggle she will have in getting a home to live in.
This is used to make the viewer feel sympathetic towards the poor young woman. With no other choice, they move into Reg’s mothers house where the camera shows shots of the cramped conditions and different voice-overs of women explaining how the community used to be before the housing establishment collapsed. By doing this, the director informs the viewer of how big an impact it had on the community as well as displaying peoples views and opinions. Their stay ends after an argument between Cathy and her mother-in-law.
In this scene, Cathy is sitting on her own with her son, suggesting that her husband may have been around less at this time, leaving her on her own to struggle with life. There is a slight uplift in the mood of the documentary when they find a new house to live in which Cathy says she likes. On the other hand, this is contrasted with shots of the bad conditions of the house, including dirt everywhere and cramped rooms. The viewer is then made to feel an ever-growing sympathy for Cathy, as she is in such a struggle that she settles for this place as her home for her family.
The desperate feelings for Cathy only deepen as she is evicted out of her 3rd house, now with three children. By this point, images of Reg have become less and less frequent, suggesting a split in their relationship and Cathy being left to cope on her own more and more. A male authoritative voice over begins to reel off the facts and figures of waiting lists for houses in major cities while a long shot of Cathy walking up a hill, all alone, struggling with her children is shown.
This informative clip explains the difficulties that the government officials had in housing people, while also giving an individual approach showing the struggle that the families have, creating a highly emotional image for viewers and putting them almost into the same situation. Typical values in a family are that the father plays the role of the breadwinner, whereas this is not the case for this struggling family when they resort to living in a caravan. The director has done this to contrast with our typical values of a family structure, stressing the difficulties they are going through.
Close ups of other people living at the caravan are shown with wrinkled faces, suggesting that it is a hard life. A voice over is also used to enhance the viewers sympathy for the communities and resent toward the officials as we hear them complaining about gypsies living freely. A violent scene of caravan windows been smashed and burnt down gives the viewer a sense of shock and reality to the documentary, angering them that officials would go treat poverty issues that extremely. A contrast between the officials of the documentary and the poor people is shown when Cathy has an interview about getting inside a homeless shelter.
The dominant officials are dressed in smart suits, looking very stern while she is dressed in dirty old clothes, with her children crying in the background. This creates the idea that both types of people are from completely different worlds, and neither could relate to each other in any way. A distinctively sad expression is shown in a close up on Cathy as opposed to her usual cheery face when she realises she will be split from her husband. Also, this downwardly progresses as we see her looking miserable as she moves into the shelter and for the first time we see her cry when her husband sneaks in.
This increases the viewer’s desperation for the family and outraged at how the government handled the situations. Overall, the director of ‘Cathy Come Home’ has taken the value of women being nurturing and loving and put a whole weight of burden and responsibility on one of them and shown their struggle having to uphold these values. By contrasting greatly the poverty side of Britain with the government officials and telling the story through Cathy’s eyes, he has made the viewers see and sympathise with her, while being angered at the lack of responsibility and amount of laziness the people in charge were.