Country: United Kingdom (2017)
Duration: 1 hour 49 minutes
This critically acclaimed British documentary delves into extremely dark subject matter without prurience or judgment. Director Lucy Cohen’s camera passes mercifully over the considerable sorrow of the Shanks family, pausing just enough on moments of joy and laughter to rescue them from total tragedy.
In 2007, Paul Shanks, the patriarch of the family committed suicide in the woods behind his country home, after calling the police to warn them of what he was planning. His body was found with two deep wounds to his wrist and neck. He left behind a wife, Vikie, and seven children, six sisters and one brother, whose lives were subsequently thrown into completely disarray. The film documents their attempts, in the years following his death, to understand their father and why he took his own life.
Unusually, the family are in possession of extensive home video footage, a great deal of which their father himself captured over the years he was still alive. Cohen makes good use of this footage, judiciously using clips alongside scenes of the children recounting memories of their father, both good and bad. Slowly and subtly, a portrait of a deeply complex and troubled man emerges, a talented musician suffering from severe (and untreated) mental health problems. The children recall how he would make them sit still for hours whilst he ranted to them obsessively and how he removed all the furniture from their house because he “hated clutter”. They also listen to tapes of beautiful songs he had composed for each of them on their birthdays.
At the start of the film, the house the Shanks share in rural England is in a state of complete chaos, clothes and possessions pile mountainously around the family, whilst they make tentative attempts to sort through it. But as their story progresses, in an evocative metaphor, the debris begins to clear.