REVIEW: Is there a father in the house?
Wednesday 28 December 1994
At a season when you can't move for movies, this was not necessarily the fare you'd seek out, but anyone who did was rewarded with something that sucked you in. Although half the programme could have done with subtitling, there is something powerfully seductive in the Jamaican accent even when pronouncing alien words like "monogamy". "Now 'e's an henemy of de family," one mother told the court, pricelessly, "because of 'is hattitude." Jamaicans obviously find the accent seductive, because s eduction seems to be a national sport second only to knocking the blocks off English cricketers. Hence the proliferation of paternity suits.
Another attraction was the chance to see justice in action in a context that couldn't be more different from the lapidary proceedings in The Trial, BBC 2's recent series about the Scottish courts. The family court here was not an imposing stone pile fronted by neo-classical columns, but a colourful shanty shack. Inside, the courtroom had just about enough room for the camera.
One baby father, who was there to prove that two of his girlfriend's three children were not his, wore sunglasses throughout. Perhaps because neither of them could afford lawyers, they were allowed to cross-examine each other, thus draining the hearing of whatever residual formality it may have had. The dialogue winged you straight back to improv workshops in the DramSoc.
In one hilarious vignette, a couple in dispute over child support were routinely, almost lazily, rowing, and the camera swung round to focus on their lawyers, standing bang next to them and erectly negotiating their next move.
But the conventionally rigid dividing line between the clients and representatives of the law, illustrated there, was frequently breached on both sides. The father of the three children was told that as he had helped bring them up, he had admitted de facto paternity. "That's a hard one for you to get out of, Mr . . . er . . . Bennett," said the female judge, hastily glancing down at her notes. In the other two cases, the lawyers acting for the baby fathers weren't exactly paragons of professional reserve: one was quite baldly in it for the money, while the other was openly gleeful when his client maliciously provoked a rival and got him locked up for the night.
It wouldn't stand up in court, but there's quite a good case to be made for laying the blame for this unholy social mess at England's door. Slaves were absolved of all responsibility for the children they sired, and this has seeped into the island's sexual psyche. At the end of each court session you still hear the invocation "God save the Queen", so they obviously haven't forgotten us.
Whoever's to blame, this was a tale from which it was difficult to extract cause for optimism or behaviour to admire. One man claimed that the only difference between Jamaicans and other males is their openness: honesty has never sounded less like a virtue. Anwar Batti's alert film was content to observe rather than enquire, and omitted to make any mention of the sufferings visited on the children. It's them you feel sorry for. When the child was taken round to the man demanding access whose paternity was proved by a blood test, she clung feebly to her mother's leg, the ball in a national sport in which no one wins.
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rarest Beanie Baby bought for just £10 at car boot sale could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 2 Katie Hopkins and The Sun editor are reported to police for incitement to racial hatred following migrant boat column
- 3 Katie Hopkins has just written a piece so hateful that it might give Hitler pause – why was it published?
- 4 Australian student Tommy Connolly, 23, adopts his pregnant, homeless 17-year-old cousin to give her a chance at 'a better life'
- 5 Cancel Sky at your peril: man spends 96 minutes in chat but fails to get rid of service
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Star Wars 7: George Lucas admits he hasn't seen The Force Awakens trailer
Star Wars: Rogue One trailer: Watch the teaser for the Jedi-less Death Star heist film
Avengers: Age of Ultron: 'After credits' scene leaks online
Kevin Spacey's successor at The Old Vic promises a more low-key approach
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate