‘It’s a rare thing indeed for the working class to be sympathetically portrayed in film – without being patronised. Rarer still for the movie’s narrative to be based on the true stories of real working class people’s family histories, as told by them, and indeed mostly acted by them. And just about unique when the stories are not of couthy, folksy whims, but of naked class war.
Although the three central families portrayed are fictional, the story told is rooted in undoctored reality. Robert Rae and his team achieved this primarily through the unique methodology used: this is collaborative art at its best, where over the course of four years they sought the participation of Fifers from the (ex-)mining villages to capture what happened in the biggest confrontation between the working class and the capitalist rulers and their state forces in the history of this island.
A thousand local people took part in the project, gladly and freely giving 88,000 hours (equivalent to a combined 10 years!) of their time to telling stories handed down by family members involved in the 1926 general strike and subsequent 9-month lockout of the miners; training in theatre workshops, and eventually in many cases becoming the actors in a superb historical film of keen relevance today.
This methodology echoes some of the best traditions of real-life solidarity that the film seeks to portray. Gritty it sure is, and spoken in the unadulterated Fife tongue (with sub-titles!), but this film is in turn funny, heartbreaking, moving and uplifting.
The Happy Lands pulls no punches – without descending into sensationalism – in showing state brutality towards a working class that dares to challenge the rule of the rich, with kids arrested for picking bits of coal off bings to warm their houses; evictions; imprisonment of workers who dared fight back; the attempt to break the spirit and bodies of communities as they fought long and hard under the slogan “Not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day”.
It avoids being crude or preachy in depicting the transformation of consciousness and understanding of workers through struggle. See The Happy Lands if you can. Laugh, cry, rage and resolve to emulate the spirit and dignity of those working class heroes, to avenge their defeat, to build the socialist future that so many of them dreamt of and sacrificed to achieve.’ – Richie Venton on February 8, 2013,Scottish Socialist Voice