Thursday, 16 April 2015

Catch Me Daddy - Moorland Gothic

Catch Me Daddy is the rough-edged but searingly memorable debut feature film from music video director Daniel Wolfe, name-checked in Robert Macfarlane's recent Guardian article on The eeriness of the English countryside. In common with other recent hard-hitting 'Brit-grit' films most of the characters are played by non-professional actors, a lineage established by Ken Loach and perhaps an antidote to the high-end thesping of much British input into contemporary cinematic culture.

The naturalistic performances certainly give the work authentic impact, as does the spare and economical dialogue - a mixture of sub-titled Urdu and sometimes abstruse Yorkshire and Scottish accented English. There is also an interesting motif running through the film of narcotic stupefaction: every character has their own constantly consumed opiate, whether that be cannabis, tobacco, cocaine, gin, prescription drugs, high sugar fizzy drinks or a mixture thereof. 

As you may gather, this is a film for which 'not for the faint hearted' is an apt description. In this respect there is a sense of slightly one-dimensional grimness. The remorseless pursuit that is the central narrative has seen the film dubbed a 'Yorkshire Western' but it lacks the light and shade of, say, Shane Meadow's East Midland's revenge-noir Dead Man's Shoes.

What I found most arresting in viewing the film was its acute sense of place. This particularity ensures that it will resonate with anyone familiar with the bleak beauty of the moorlands that encircle the West Yorkshire conurbation of Leeds-Bradford and its satellite (ex) mill towns like a ready made folk-horror film set. The peaty heights of Calderdale and the Dark Peak easily inspire dread and are at once both closely juxtaposed to the towns and cities that their fast-flowing waters created but also in possession of a forbidding otherness that belies their location a few minutes and miles from urban centres. In a post on the nearby Worth valley, I expanded on the regional genius loci: "Its a landscape in which dispersed farmsteads, miles of dry stone walling and pack-horse tracks across the high heather moors share space and time with woollen mill towns and villages battered by the elements and economic decline, and narrow valley floors often crowded with two centuries of communications networks: canal, railway and road".

As essayed in William Atkin's book The Moor (2014), these landscapes have borne witness to dark crimes, uprisings and lawlessness. With these stories and with this character, they have also darkened the topographical exactitude of the writings of the Bronte sisters, of Ted Hughes and Simon Armitage. This specificity of location brings to mind Pawel Pawlikowski's 2004 film My Summer of Love, which also utilises the South Pennines uplands as the setting for an - ultimately doomed - sense of freedom and fleeting enchantment for its young lead characters. Both films have refreshingly strong female leads; an all-too-rare trait shared with West Yorkshire-based Benjamin Myers novel Beastings (2014) which centres on the pursuit of a young women and a baby by a psychotic priest and a mercenary, dead-eyed poacher across the Lakeland fells.   

With a finale that is left tantalisingly open and unfinished, yet without compromise or cop-out, Catch Me Daddy packs a punch. It also admirably underscores the reality of inter-racial and inter-cultural interactions - whether positive, everyday mundane or more malevolent - that gives a lie to the rhetoric of irrevocably divided communities in Northern towns and cities.    


  1. Great article and an excellent encapsulation of the film

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