Since 1968, the Amber Collective, a group of U.K. filmmakers, has dedicated itself to producing documentary-style fiction movies about working-class communities. Shot on digital video, its latest is a bleak chronicle of poverty and addiction that unfolds in a depressed former coal-mining town in northern England.
Developed in collaboration with residents of rugged East Durham, where the last pit closed in 1992 and heroin rushed in to fill the economic and social void, Shooting Magpies revolves around several intersecting lives. Emma (Dowson), a mother at 15, wants a better life for her two daughters, pinning her hopes on helping her junkie boyfriend, Darren (Darren Bell), get clean. Her closest confidant is single father and one-time youth worker Barry (Gough), whose steadying influence has earned him the confidence of many local teenagers, including junkie Deano (Sanchez Coulson). Deano's father, neighborhood hard case Ray (Hogg), deals in stolen jewelry; shortly before Deano commits suicide, he steals a batch of baubles from his father and gives it to Barry who, in turn, gives the jewelry to Emma, telling her to pawn it somewhere far from town and use the money for Darren's rehabilitation. The narrative threads are rooted in real East Durham stories, and some of the actors play variations on themselves; the results are even more desolate than Ken Loach's improvised dramas of blue collar malaise, wrapped in a clammy, miserable fog of all-too-real despair.—Maitland McDonagh