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DVD Review

Coal House


Acorn Media
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: E
Available 11 February 2008

This living history series transports three families back to the south of Wales coalfield of the 1920s. The families swap their modern luxuries for the harsh reality of daily life of a coalmining family, living in coalminers' cottages without heating, running water, washing machines, TV and computers, and of course, for the men, there are long days down the mines...

Coal House is another one of those programs which take contemporary families and places them in the world of their predecessors. In this case, it is a welsh nineteen-twenty coal mining village. The show was the highest rated factual program ever shown in Wales and was repeated on both BBC1 and 2.

The show's 300 minutes is spread across two DVD’s and contains all ten episodes. Three families were chosen the Cartwright’s, the Griffith's and the Phillip’s and appear to have been picked for their differences, rather than their similarities. To fill the village the program uses a combination of actors and local people.

The cottages, in Blaenavon, were chosen for their authenticity and were kitted out just like a twenties home, so that means no electrical equipment or the plethora of diversions which fill a modern house. Of course this also means bathing in a tin bath and heating from a coal fire. Neither of the sexes gets off easy. The men work in an actual coal mine, which is a mile and half walk from home, whilst the women have to keep the home going on little money and failing energy levels. Even making a cup of tea becomes an arduous task.

The first episode is used to look at the way the families were selected and the setting up of their new lives. Their naive excitement of what one considers to be ‘like going on holiday in the past’ becomes a relentless four week assault course on survival. Between October 2007 and November 2007, their romantic view of the lives of the proletariat is quickly tarnished when faced with the realities of everyday life on the poverty line. Although, through the poverty and sickness, one of the nice things that is shown is that human beings generally can survive in pretty awful condition with their humour intact and their support for each other as strong as ever.

The picture on the disc is okay, nice, clear and bright for a television show. Disc one has special features in the form of a cinema trailer; a meet the family feature (14 min 52 sec a kind of behind the scenes featurette where the families talk straight to the camera about their experiences); and a picture gallery. There are no extras on disc two.

If you like these types of semi-factual programs then you’re going to love watching these people being put through the ringer.


Charles Packer

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