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With this intimate, painful and rather lovely family history documentary, film-maker Iain Cunningham turns detective to discover the truth about his mum, Irene. As a child in the Midlands, he was told that she’d slipped into a coma and died. His dad remarried and it was an unwritten family rule that no one mentioned Irene. So Cunningham grew up with part of his identity missing. He didn’t see a photograph of his mum until he was 18, but imagined her presence everywhere. She was in the dandelions he chased or a cat crossing the street.
After advertising in the local paper, he interviews Irene’s friends and family. In front rooms in Nuneaton, he is made endless cups of tea by funny, down-to-earth women with kind eyes: aunts, cousins and bridesmaids from the pages of the wedding album, 40 years older. Irene did not go into a coma. She worked in a factory, met Iain’s dad at a dance, got married, bought a house, had a baby. Then something went terribly wrong. Nervously, Cunningham approaches his father, who stiffens defensively. In old photos, Irene smiles shyly. She was “quiet and artistic”, says one relative.
I won’t say exactly what happened to her, but the tragedy of it is that today she’d have had every chance of recovery. The film is a love letter to Irene, yet the emotional balance finally tips to Cunningham’s dad – ending with an unexpectedly tender moment between the two men.
Everyone knows what Larkin wrote about parents (“They fuck you up”), but Cunningham focuses on the second line of the poem: “They may not mean to.” There’s an acceptance here that almost everyone is doing the best they can. It’s a slight film, yet profound.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Irene’s Ghost review – a son’s moving quest for the mother he lost | Documentary films